Loet Vanderveen: The Story of a Legendary Bronze Animal Sculpture Artist

A cast bronze sculpture of running giraffes by Loet Vanderveen.

“To capture the soul of the man, one must look into his eyes. To capture the eyes of the beast, one must look into nature’s soul.”

-Loet Vanderveen

Loet Vanderveen was a master of cast bronze sculpture, able to reproduce the elegance and beauty of nature in an art form so challenging and harsh as metal. The story behind this renowned animal sculpture artist is just as inspiring as his art, and one could not exist without the other.

From enduring tragedy in WWII, to designing fashion in bustling metropolises, to moving to the remote coastal mountains of Big Sur, Vanderveen took a passion for the natural world and poured it into art. Learn the story behind the man whose sculptures grace the residences of Queen Elizabeth II, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and avid collectors around the world.

Loet Vanderveen’s Early Life and Influences

Loet Vanderveen grew up in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. As a child, Vanderveen visited the Rotterdam zoo across the street almost every day, fostering in him a deep love for animals and the natural world. He was obsessed with someday traveling the world and creating art, but his life as an animal sculpture artist would not begin until he had overcome great hardship.

Tragedy struck Vanderveen’s life at a young age when he lost his mother to a car accident and his father to a staph infection. In 1940, his home of Rotterdam was bombed by Axis forces, and right before, the Dutch army was forced to slaughter all the dangerous animals in the zoo. 

Vanderveen had half-Jewish heritage, and during the occupation, he was forced to flee the city by bicycle over the Belgian border. During the rest of the war, he served in the R.A.F., where he became a decorated soldier.

From the City to the Mountains

After the war, Vanderveen finally had the freedom to pursue his artistic passions. His artistic career began as a fashion designer, designing sportswear in Paris and London. This cutthroat industry was not enough to satisfy his creative longings, and so, he moved to New York City, where he undertook the challenging art of reduced glazes. He met with the curator of the Far Eastern Department of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Fong Chow, a master ceramicist to whom he owed the rest of his career. Thenceforth, his life as an animal sculpture artist began.

Vanderveen’s career truly took off when he escaped to the wild to pursue his dream of being an artist. He purchased 20 acres of land in Big Sur, California, and built a house with a ceramic studio atop a mountain. After a fire destroyed the original home in 1985, he rebuilt it, and a new wave of inspiration prompted him to pursue casting bronze sculpture full-time.

How Artists Create Bronze Sculpture Art

To create sculptures in bronze, artists first create the sculpture in malleable clay. The clay is then used to create a mold, usually in silicon rubber. The rubber mold is used as the basis for the cast bronze, which is poured into the mold from a hot forge. 

Many materials can be used in the bronze casting process to make the sculptures, including gated wax, silica sand, and ceramic shells. Many artists choose to burn out the wax in the interior of the sculpture, rendering the sculpture hollow. The bronze must be molten, poured, and welded by skilled professionals with great care to ensure seam lines, bubbles, and imperfections do not appear in the finished product. Vanderveen then added an additional layer of complexity by applying colored patinas to his bronze sculptures, which must be applied to the bronze while still hot.

The complexity of his process is masked in how graceful and silky his animal sculpture art appears to be, and this is part of what makes Vanderveen so famous. Bronze sculpture art is challenging and imprecise, and the elegance of Vanderveen sculptures is a testament to his patience and mastery of the craft.

Explore Vanderveen’s Legacy at Marcus Ashley Gallery

Well into his 90s, Vanderveen continued to pioneer and innovate in his chosen medium, producing works that would leave an indelible mark in wildlife sculpture forever. He equated his works, and all animal sculpture art, to a 21st century homage to totem poles. Loet Vanderveen passed away in 2015, therefore his remaining collection of cast bronze sculptures are all that there ever will be. Now, his work has passed into legend, and his techniques may never be perfectly replicated. 

If you wish to purchase a Vanderveen sculpture, we are happy to assist you. His sculptures add hope and optimism to any space. With world-class gallery service, your sculpture will be fully insured until it reaches your doorstep. It will come with all the necessary certificates of replacement value that such a rare and valuable piece of art requires. 

If you have questions about Loet Vanderveen’s artwork, please get in touch with one of our art consultants. We also encourage you to explore Loet Vanderveen’s collection online at Marcus Ashley Gallery or come see our collection in person in our renowned South Lake Tahoe location.