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Legacy of Erwin de Vries kept alive by Suriname Art Fair

At the 58th edition of the National Art Fair, in addition to well-known and new artists, attention is always paid to works by grand masters who are no longer with us. It is of great importance to honor these great art sons of Suriname, who have worked on the development of the Surinamese art scene, but especially to keep their work and ideas alive. One of them is the late Erwin de Vries, passed in January 2018. The big question, even then, was what would happen to his legacy, namely hundreds of paintings and some sculptures, which are of inestimable value. De Vries was a highly regarded and respected artist nationally and internationally. Known for his sharp tongue and perhaps his even sharper and bold brushstrokes. Erwin de Vries breathed art from his appearance to his lifestyle.

In the process of creating a portrait




Randomly painting (Erwin often painted like this on the floor, except for portraits)

Erwin has received many awards and recognition through the purchases of his work by major museums, such as the Museum of Modern Arts in Miami, Centro de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Erwin has always been a very productive artist. He was still painting until a few days before his death. Erwin made hundreds of paintings on canvas during his lifetime, as well as watercolors and bronze sculptures. Many have been sold over the years, but many works are currently stored in the artist’s last home/studio along the Suriname River in Paramaribo. The National Art Fair Foundation, states that there should be more appreciation and tribute to these great names of local artists, as what they have done for our country should be better known and appreciated.

“We have a lot of talent in Suriname. There are plenty of Surinamese who have entered the big world of international art and have acquired name and fame as artists,” says Juan Pawiroredjo, vice-chairman of the National Art Fair Foundation. He cites Remy Jungerman, Marcel Pinas, Isan Corinde and others as examples. “At the NK we put the spotlight on these artists and their works so that people like Erwin de Vries do not fall into oblivion.” According to Pawiroredjo, the undervaluation of art and artists is based on having knowledge about art and culture. “It all comes back to education. We will have to pay more attention to art and culture education, in order to structurally impart this knowledge to young people. You’re not going to understand or be interested in what you don’t know.” He also states that social media can also be used to bring this knowledge and love with more depth. “We need to invest in art and cultural education, it is not something that comes naturally.”

Sabine de Vries, one of Erwin’s daughters, said that she could not separate her father as an artist from his role as a father. “There was always a lot of dynamics and things to do in our house. He loved Suriname. Even when he was traveling, he was introduced as a Surinamese artist, and he introduced himself as a Surinamese. He was born before the Independence and therefore had a Dutch passport. But he loved Suriname and wanted to die as a Surinamese and that is why he had a Surinamese passport at one point.” Uncle Erwin, as he was affectionately called by many, was not a modest man, but he was proud – not in a snobbish way – of what he was able to achieve and did not shy away from the spotlight. Erwin was proud that he could live from the proceeds of his work. Full of passion and self-confidence, he has sold his paintings and sculptures all his life. He had no manager and was a tireless, persistent ‘businessman’. “You couldn’t ignore my father. He always invited someone to interview him, so he would stay in the public’s eye. But now that he is gone, the responsibility rests on his descendants to ensure that his art is still seen and heard, for a younger generation that was not able to experience it. Because he lives on in his works of art.”

It is therefore essential that his art remains on display, but also that information about him and his works is readily available. “That people not only see his works but also experience what he was like. His character, a go-getter, someone who didn’t want to be told no, strong-willed and a go-getter, those elements must shine through in everything that can be seen,” says Sabine. Erwin often said that life is not easy but that you have to make something of it yourself. He was interesting as an artist, but also as a person, his personality. “It would be nice if the younger generation would also know that.”





Part of Erwin de Vries’ heritage is his extensive library, consisting of many art and study books. Sabine hopes there can be a cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, to distribute these books to educational institutes, where they can really be used during drawing and art lessons. “My father’s dream was to set up a museum with his works.” Gudrun de Vries, Erwin’s other daughter, lives in the Netherlands and is currently in discussions with galleries and museums to see what the possibilities are for organizing a retrospective exhibition. Work is currently also underway on a biography of Erwin, which will be launched in 2025 with a major exhibition in the Netherlands.

Working on slavery memorial

The National Art Fair takes the position that Surinamese art should be known abroad. A long-cherished wish that was accelerated due to the outbreak of COVID-19 through the launch of the Suriname International Art Fair ( As a result, the NK has acquired more foreign art partners, but many more artists from other countries such as Cuba, Curaçao and China are now also participating in the virtual Art Fair. It has been agreed with the de Vries family that works by Erwin will be included in the ‘Arts in Embassy’s programme’. “That is a project in which art is sent to Surinamese embassies and they then exhibit the works to give more exposure to Surinamese art,” says Pawiroredjo. “And of course, during the 2023 Art Fair we paid ample attention to Uncle Erwin’s work.”