Always Looking

Charles Donker

from 3 December 2021 to 3 April 2022

Opening hours: every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm


The Fondation Custodia presents a solo show of Charles Donker (born in 1940). Donker’s technique, and the renowned delicacy of his work, place him among the greatest Dutch graphic artists of his time. The Fondation holds a large selection of his engravings, but in the exhibition a choice of his drawings and watercolours will also be shown for the first time. The group of works cover the fifty years of the artist’s career.


Charles Donker works principally ‘on the spot’. ‘I do not know how to be anywhere other than out of doors’, the draughtsman and printmaker confesses. ‘I need to see the sky, hear the rustling of the trees, watch the birds flying about and experience nature’s profound silence. I would be seriously unhappy if I could no longer go outside’.

This ‘outside’ can be located anywhere. Donker has travelled in France, England, Spain, Poland, Latin America and Israel. At Rhijnauwen, in the Netherlands, Donker has been working since 1970 in the former dwelling of a forester. ‘I have made many etchings of the landscape around the studio. It’s mixed woodland and farmland: behind a group of trees there is a hedge, and behind the hedge another line of trees. A group of horizontal lines with meadows in between. I like things that are straight and well-balanced, horizontally or vertically’.

Charles Donker, Landscape at Kromme Rijn / Rhijnauwen with bird names, c. 1972
Etching. – 176 × 199 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

Sometimes a tree is the sole subject of a print. But it has first to have shed its leaves. A tree cannot be a model for him in summer time. ‘It is very difficult to represent a tree in leaf’, Donker explains. ‘Also, I cannot draw anything from my imagination. I need to have everything before my eyes. I really look hard at the tree’.

Charles Donker, Birch near a Field (Birch III), c. 1991
Etching and aquatint. – 370 × 279 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

The great landscape artists of the nineteenth century made sketches en plein air, then re-worked them in the studio. Donker’s view is that ‘what is done on the spot is generally the best. That’s why I prefer etching directly onto the plate. When things are going well, I am completely absorbed in what I do. A feeling of happiness pervades. Time no longer exists, I feel completely at ease and happy’. Working from nature offers this additional reward.

A print by Charles Donker is a summary of events observed over a few days, in places where almost nothing exists but the place itself. The slightest motion is forbidden. Donker thinks birds fly too fast for his taste, he can only represent them when they are very close and make no movement of wing or claw for a long stretch of time. In general, this means they are dead.

Charles Donker, Pine Cone V, 2011-12
Etching. – 125 × 163 mm
Collection Ger Luijten, Paris

Donker makes us see what he has seen. He wants to share with us the beauty of what he has observed, the beauty of nature.

At this exhibition, those who know Charles Donker only as a printmaker will discover a completely different aspect of his talent. The landscapes of Spain and Latin America demonstrate the colourist dormant within him, through a selection of watercolours, wash drawings and pencil sketches.

  • Charles Donker, Mountain Landscape, Monfragüe, 1994
    Acrylic on watercolour paper. – 454 × 687 mm
    Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris
  • Charles Donker, Cloud Forest: Trees in Tropical Forest near Utuana, Ecuador, 2003
    Watercolour. – 300 × 400 mm
    Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

The Dutch Institute for Art History in the Netherlands (RKD) has published an online catalogue raisonné of the prints of Charles Donker, compiled by Jan Piet Filedt Kok:


Charles Donker. D’abord regarder / Altijd kijken
Jan Piet Filedt Kok, Ger Luijten, Gijsbert van der Wal
Paris, Fondation Custodia, 2021
224 pages, 200 colour illustrations, 24 × 30 cm, hardback
34,50 €

French edition: ISBN 978 90 6868 852 8
[Out of stock]

Dutch edition: ISBN 978 90 6868 851 1

To order this book, please fill out the form below. You will receive an invoice by e-mail, including package and postage fees. Payments can be made by bank transfer.

The information supplied by you through this form is collected by the Fondation Custodia in order to process your order. In accordance with the law Informatique et Libertés of 6 January 1978, modified, and with the Règlement Général sur la Protection des Données, you have the legal right to access your data, to rectify them, to restrict them, to transfer them or to suppress them. In order to exercise these rights, you can contact the Fondation Custodia, 121 rue de Lille, 75007 Paris, +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19, To find out more about our Privacy Policy.


Practical Information


Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt
121, rue de Lille - 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19

Access by public transport

Metro: Assemblée Nationale (line 12) or Invalides (lines 8 and 13)
RER C: Invalides or Musée d’Orsay
Bus: lines 63, 73, 83, 84, 94, Assemblée Nationale
Vélib’: station opposite (n° 7009)

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm

The Fondation Custodia is closed on 25 December and 1 January

Admission charges

Admission charges 10 € (full) / 7 € (reduced)
The reduced rate is available to seniors (over 60), unemployed people, groups of at least 10 people

Free admission: students, press card, ICOM card, disabled person’s card

No online reservations

Exhibition curators: Ger Luijten, director of the Fondation Custodia and Jan Piet Filedt Kok, honorary director of collections of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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