About Maria Walther

Maria’s father was in the Dutch army, settled comfortably with his family in the Dutch colony of Indonesia when the war broke out. The family were imprisoned in a concentration camp by the invading Japanese, and Maria was born in the camp, spending her four first years of life in those appallingly harsh conditions, the youngest of four children. Women and children were separated from men, her father imprisoned in a camp nearby.


The camp was liberated by allied Sikh forces in 1946. To the family, after having experienced only the company of small Japanese men and emaciated women and children, these magnificent, tall turbanned men were utterly fascinating. The family spent 6 months recovering from mistreatment and malnutrition in Bangkok, finally being flown out in a plane with seats removed, in which she screamed in fear for the whole journey – now believing this to be the source of her current anxiety about flying. The plane ride was followed by a lengthy sea trip, and she has vague recollections of dolphins and sharks chasing after scraps thrown from the ship, flying fish landing on the deck, a party to celebrate crossing the Date Line featuring a figure dressed as Neptune, pseudo baptism ceremonies and feelings of terror amongst passengers and crew as they assembled on deck whilst passing through an area sewn with mines. Memories of arrival in Holland were dominated by the novel climate – the unfamiliar smells, the cold air and being bundled in warm but uncomfortable clothes donated by the Red Cross.


Maria’s father only returned to Holland some time later, taking on an administrative role in the army. Besides collecting books on 18th and 19th century explorers, he was an avid collector of natural specimens, spending much of his time drawing and recording sea shells and natural objects from all over the world. Maria spent much time with her father, sharing and participating in his activities, closely examining and drawing his specimens housed in the attic of their house. In the course of these activities, Maria had the opportunity to secretly peep into a forbidden book of illustrated diseases, experiencing at a young age the horrific visual thrill of nature’s capacity to inflict awesome deformity and scarring .

Like many Dutch people at that time, her inherited culture was Indonesian, and she recalls from childhood her love for puppet theatre, both the leather two-dimensional shadow puppets cleverly jointed and operated with sticks from below, and the exotic and colourful figures operated with strings from above.


Sadly, when she was about 9 years old, her parents divorced. She lost touch with her father, but it is to him that Maria attributes her earliest love of nature and her youthful aspirations to become either an explorer or an artist.

An unhappy 17-year old, Maria ran away from home, spending a year as a waitress in an Italian coffee shop before being returned to her family by Social Services. She was then sent to a good, private teacher training college in The Hague after which she taught 12-year-olds and also enjoyed the challenges and success in re-motivating a class of teenage school drop-outs. In the evenings, she attended the Vrye Academie (Free Academy), in which she pursued her art as a painter. This was an extremely happy period in her life; she found it easy to sell her abstract paintings, but was shocked into creating larger and more challenging work by her guru and mentor, Wil Bouthoorn.


At the age of 22, she married and had a child. There followed a period of hard work, teaching to support her family, then divorcing and spending several years seeking and living an alternative lifestyle. It was only at the age of 40 that she resumed her artistic career, deciding to spend a further four years studying graphic art – woodcuts and etching . Her work matured to combine these disciplines with her earlier painting style. At the graduation exhibition, Maria’s work was picked out by two important galleries, which successfully showed and sold her work.

Not one to stay still, Maria moved with her partner to the South of France, and a few years passed until she took up her artistic work again. During this time, she learnt to become a farmer and, over the next 10 years, tended a herd of goats, shepherding them daily over the Languedoc woodland terrain and successfully making cheeses that she sold to the best local restaurants. Although hard work, this was an idyllic lifestyle, in which Maria could live close to nature in a landscape she came to love. She finally settled nearby in a tiny hamlet in the Black Mountains, and again took up her vocation as a painter.


Her technique reveals complete mastery of a form of the Dutch tradition of ‘glazing’ – gradually building delicate thin layers of paint, ultimately to create a translucent effect, and this is her current choice of means to communicate through her paintings. Her passion for the natural environment with its myriad variety of forms of life is revealed in finely painted creatures – bird, bat, duck, toad, snail... set against a background of luminescent, imagined lanscapes, suffused with delicate light. They often contain hidden messages, with titles offered to help decipher. Other paintings reveal her deep and heartfelt concern and fear for our Earth’s future. They reflect not only nature’s bright colours, but often the lurid greens, blues and yellows of pollution, to produce highly unusual, memorable and dramatic visual portrayals of these fears. Petrified, two-dimensional figures, reminiscent of living creatures, gradually become discernible in lifeless landscapes; a ghoulish, fairy-tale monster stalks and threatens the unaware; a monstrous hunter stomps home, laden with spoils of destruction; creatures struggle upwards to escape invasion in the form of petrification or a bed of pollution.... Maria’s concerns are currently shared by many, but her highly individual and powerful, visual expressions are unique.


When asked what it is that influences the content of her paintings, Maria says

“They are illustrations of a story concerning a journey that goes back to the origins of life and that will end when life on earth ends. The story lives inside me, under my skin, and I’m never sure of what I will come across next. I’m struck with wonder by the beauty of small creatures when closely examined – and filled with fear when I witness humanity’s destructive use and abuse of nature, mindless and careless of the fact that it is part of that journey”


Helen Othen