“The brightness that leaps from his canvasses is like crystals seen through a microscope.” TIME
Artist and colour master Henri van Bentum, 92, of Victoria, BC, passed away tranquilly in the company of his beloved lifelong partner, Natasha van Bentum, on April 2, 2022.
Henri was born on August 13, 1929 in the Netherlands. The son of diamond-facetter Hendricus Johannes van Bentum and Antonia Alberse, Henri began painting after WWII in a sanatorium during a long bout with tuberculosis. Later the doctors said ‘taking up painting saved his life’.
Cured, he immigrated to Canada in 1957, where two years later in early spring he travelled by train to the Rocky Mountains to paint, a trip sponsored by friend and doctor Wilf S. Goodman.
While painting ‘en plein air’ at Moraine Lake, two faculty members of the Banff School of Fine Arts came upon him unexpectedly. When they saw what was on his easel, Henri was invited to attend the school’s summer session (which he didn’t know existed). Having no money, they waived the usual fees.
Ironically it was in the Rocky Mountains that Henri discovered he was a born abstract painter, and left representational art behind, never turning back. In Toronto he studied with J.W.G. (“Jock”) Macdonald, his respected mentor. Two one-man exhibitions at Roberts Gallery followed.
Henri’s work is represented in over 200 public and private collections. He had solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Banff, Mexico City, Toronto and Montreal. The Paris exhibition was officially opened by then-Ambassador to France, Jules Léger.
Henri freely shared his love of art, especially colour, with others, teaching classes with new Canadian immigrants and lecturing widely throughout Ontario.
Henri was a pioneer, as well, of the Artists in the Schools program in Ontario.
All this was done despite a facial disfigurement caused by a failed mastoid operation in his boyhood during WWII in the Netherlands, in which he also lost hearing in his right ear.
Soon after arriving in Canada, a plastic surgeon performed a pioneering, 8-hour operation that restored some symmetry to his face, but sadly this was undone when the original (mastoid) condition recurred in the late 1980’s and another operation was required.
But Henri, a born raconteur, was steadfast. He persevered with sharing and giving teachings despite this disability.
In 1972 while living with Natasha in Morocco and on the island of Madeira, Henri created his opus, the “Organiverse Portfolio” – a series of 100 mandalas in pointillism, each 8.5 cm in diameter. Dot by dot, “atom by atom”.
Later, back in the Rocky Mountains 1980-85 where Natasha worked at The Banff Centre, Henri embarked on a new series in watercolour, “Spatial Rhythms” and gave a solo exhibition at the Peter Whyte Gallery.
Meanwhile the ‘Organiverse Portfolio’, took on a life of its own. In 1975 it had been made into a 35mm film and represented Canada at several international film festivals. In 2005 a limited-edition portfolio of the Organiverse was followed in 2007 by a handheld set, with each mandala on an individual card, contained in a box made from recovered west coast wood.
Henri was actively creative until the very end. Recently Organiverse took on yet another form, a digital video production of the 100 mandalas joined with poems by Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali”, produced and narrated by friend Brian W.E. Johnson.
van Bentum’s work evokes organic processes of the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels, reminding viewers “what lies above, so below”. This led NASA’s public outreach program of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to launch an online exhibit, “Coloring Space”.
The exhibit juxtaposed images of space with a selection of Henri’s paintings. Friend and astronaut Chris Hadfield called the project “a lovely fusion of science and art”. While Chris was Commander of the International Space Station, he took along a memory stick containing all 100 mandalas.
Henri was a prolific writer and correspondent with friends around the world. Following a diagnosis of bladder cancer in 2015, Henri wrote five children’s stories, all illustrated by Arizona friend P.J. Heyliger.
He was an intrepid world traveller, having been to all seven continents. These travels were undertaken on a shoestring budget. Henri’s mode of travel ranged from foot, bicycle, donkey, camel, jeep, bus, train, freighter and passenger ship to dingy, dug-out canoe, dive boat, sailboat, to Piper Cub and helicopter.
Henri circumnavigated the globe three times in the company of his partner of 51 years, Natasha, and was a proud member of the Circumnavigators Club. He was also a snooker aficionado, a passion he continued to practice into his 90s at the Union Club, with its heritage Billiards Room, winning a trophy six years ago.
Throughout his rich and varied life, Henri continued to share and give widely. He embodied the motto of his hometown Amsterdam: “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate” (Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig).
Along with his lifelong partner, Natasha van Bentum, Henri also leaves behind step-daughter Melissa Hall Torre of New York State, daughter Maya Ehses of Haida Gwaii, step-brother Bruce G. Davis of Victoria, and in Europe, nephews W.A. Harder and Carel van Bentum.
A memorial gathering will be held mid-August in Victoria at a location to be decided.
I don’t know if you will remember me but I was the Cruise Director on the OE1. My husband, Tim was a musician and band leader for the showband. We were so honored to have Henri and you onboard that amazing journey and incredible adventure. My husband often talked about Henri and his love for music. I read Henri and your story and once again, I am humbled and amazed at the wonderful company and friendships we met during that voyage. I know 92 years doesn’t seem long enough but I am so happy that you had such a wonderful life with Henri. God Bless. Henri, it was an honor and a pleasure to sail with you. Smooth Sails and Calm Winds always in your new journey. Love, prayers and peace from Kara and Tim Boyd
What an extraordinary masterpiece Henri lived! While I didn’t have the chance to meet him, in speaking with Natasha, I have admired the rare and very special connection Henri and Natasha enjoyed together for so many cherished years. Thank you for sharing this celebration of Henri’s life Natasha, you are in my thoughts and heart.
Fifty-one years is a remarkable # of years for you both to have shared such a deep love for one another. Henri was certainly a “lion-hearted, unique being with high principles”. His presence will live on in the hearts of so many of us who knew him. Brian and I send our love to you as you transition towards new discoveries on your own now. Please take special care of yourself.
Thank-you for sending out one of Henri’s wonderful mandalic images; very beautiful and inspiring indeed!
Heather and Brian
How fascinating to read about Henri’s adventurous glorious creative life. A brilliant tribute. I know how important Henri’s paintings were to my dear Dad Saul.
Thank you Natasha for sending this obituary.
Warmest regards Dorothy Chapman and her daughter Caryne
I met Henri and Natasha on a circumnavigation on the Ocean Explorer I that began in November 1999 and ended in March 2000.
Henri told an amusing story about how he came to be hired as an art instructor for that trip. When the World Cruise Company called him to solicit his interest, he told the person he spoke with that he was a wolf. Henri went on to explain by relating the following story. One day a wolf saw a dog standing outside his house. The dog asked the wolf to come inside. ‘It’s warm in there,’ the dog said, ‘and you can get plenty of food.’ The wolf replied, ‘That sounds great, but what is that thing around your neck?’ The dog responded, ‘Oh, that’s a collar. I can’t always go where I want.’ The wolf muttered, ‘Thanks,’ and walked away. After telling that story, Henri explained to the cruise company representative that he wanted to be free of all of the drills and other responsibilities that were imposed on other ship personnel. He asked for room and board for him and Natasha and nothing more. Henri did not want to have to lead excursions or take on any responsibilities other than teaching a course on painting. The company hired him on that basis.
That vignette says so much about Henri’s independent spirit, his zest for travel, his love for painting. He and I connected on that trip because I write music. Both of us are artistically creative, and that was a firm link between us both during the trip and after. Henri and I often corresponded by email, and I treasured our friendship and communications.
Thank you, Natasha, for your devotion to such a fascinating, irrepressible spirit. As for Henri: Rest well, sweet prince.
Thanks Henri for your bright presence, great stories and iriscible wit. We had some grand adventures together with our teacher which will always be with me. May you fare well on your continued journey. Natasha you have always been such a loving partner to him, my heart is with you.
My sincere condolences, Natasha, on the passing of your Henri.
Sheri and Jim Standen
Natasha – so sorry for your loss. Reading Henri’s tribute I thought you both were such keen adventurers! What an amazing life! Although we only knew you and Henri briefly, I often marvelled at your complete loving care and devotion to him. I found it truly inspiring. We are thinking of you and wish you much love, care and gentleness during this difficult time.
An incredible tribute to Henri – a gifted artist, visionary, and adventurer (to name only a few!). All those many years ago, what a gift you both gave me in lending prints of Henri’s work “The Organiverse” so that I could experience it for myself. Sending you Natasha and family healing thoughts and my sincere condolences at this difficult time. Your old Dallas Rd. neighbor, Sara
Our deepest condolences to you Natasha, your deep love and care for Henri was beautiful and continues to be inspirational.
Sharon and I can’t imagine the depth of your loss. We pray that you are able to continue to champion your man and his art as you have done so well during his life. Henri was a true artist with a unique gift.
Henri’s Spatial Rhythms are cherished pieces that we have now in our home. We know how they represent a marriage of music and art. In this way they are pictures of great love being lived which is you and Henri to a T.
Henri was a good friend of my parents, Christine and Claude Bissell, when he lived in Toronto during the 1960s. I recall his calm, thoughtful manner and that when he spoke with me–a rather shy teenager–he always took the time to weigh my opinions with care, unlike many other adults!
His painting “Light Sprang Forth”, purchased by my parents, features in all our family photographs that mark special occasions. It has become for us a striking symbol of continuity, optimism, and wonder, and is a reminder always of Henri’s questing spirit. We send you our love, Natasha, at this time of sadness. Henri’s “light” continues to shine forth. – Deirdre
Thinking of you, and of Henri. What amazing memories you must have of the adventures you shared. May those memories comfort you in the days ahead.
Marcus & Gwendolyn
It is hard to believe that we met both of you more than 20 years ago. I remember being enthralled by the stories about Henri and especially your sea voyages together.
Henri had a long and eventful life, full of adventure, creativity and love. Certainly a life to emulate.
I was saddened to hear of Henri’s passing. I had known him since the 60s when he was taking Spanish language lessons from my grandmother. We saw each other periodically through the years most recently when he stayed at my house in Puerto Vallarta. Conversations with Henri were always stimulating and varied. We carried on a lively and memorable correspondence via email while I was in Vallarta which Henri likened to a tennis match with thoughts and ideas being tossed from one to the other. Fortunately I was able to connect with him again after returning to Canada. It was exciting to see his latest project featuring the poems of Tagore and his mandalas. Henri was a good and true friend, kind and generous and I shall always be grateful to have known him.
Carel van Bentum
I feel only glad and happy that we finally managed to meet in 2018 and spend such a wonderful week in Victoria with you and Henri. Henri had such a wonderful life and so many stories to tell which for me was so interesting. His life as a painter is something special and I will always remember him by some of the paintings on my wall and the beautiful present he gave to me on my birthday. His knowledge on the football in Europe was quit extraordinary and his love of Manchester City will always be special to me.
The Union Club of British Columbia
Henri van Bentum was a proud Union Club member, and the Union Club was proud to have Mr. van Bentum on the membership roster.
From the point of becoming a member in early 2005, Mr. van Bentum’s impact was immediate. Starting with his “From Landscape to Innerscape” retrospective exhibition covering 45 years of his work in September 2005; to his winning the Spring Snooker Tournament in January 2015; to his donating the quintet collection of his wonderful children’s books between 2017-2019, Mr. van Bentum’s contributions to the Union Club were immense.
Similar to how TIME Magazine once said, “The brightness that leaps from his canvasses is like crystals seen through a microscope”, the brightness of Mr. van Bentum’s personality and presence will be missed.
One of the Greats! Larger than life, humble , kind, and filled with integrity. “Head in the sky, feet on the ground. “
I had the privilege to pray with Natasha and other dharma sisters soon after his passing. Henri had a slight smile , the room was filled with a warm glow, and his presence was strongly felt. To me, he looked angelic. Softness and strength. This experience has altered my view of the death process.
Too much to say here. Thank you , Henri, for the honour and pleasure of being a close friend, (not to mention the hundreds of gourmet meals you offered me). You live on through your amazingly beautiful Natasha and all the incredible work you have gifted the world. Onwards!
What a rich and amazing life Henri had. He will be missed by so many, and there is no greater tribute to a life well lived than that.
Walter en Ingrid Harder
Lelystad (Flevoland) Europe
Aunt Natasha; our condolences on the loss of your husband Henri van Bentum.
Only your body has been taken from us, not who you were, the beautiful memories will remain forever. Such as your special kind of humor. We found your blog, in 2007, on internet and sent you a letter by email. After almost 40 years we came over to you and Aunt Natasha in Victoria. We were received very hospitably and were given an extensive Victoria tour and a trip by boat (Coho) to America. At the short time that we were in Victoria, we were able to learn a lot. We are still very grateful for that. Henri was a perfectionist, painter, book writer, snooker champ and a world traveler. He has seen the whole globe together with Natasha. Everywhere he went he knew the way. Henri knew his time would come and prepared in his own way. But what he always said, I’m not complaining because I’ve had a beautiful life. And so he left us, but in our thoughts he will remain with us forever. Henri deserves a nice place in heaven, rest in peace my dear Uncle.
We thank Aunt Natasha and Uncle Henri for being family.
Barb & Ray Sapergia
What a remarkable man Henri was! I had looked him up online a few years ago and was very impressed by his artistic accomplishments. His obituary added much more to his life story. We are so very sorry for your loss.
Jennifer and I befriended Henri in the late sixties when we became students of the Ven. Ananda Bodhi, later Namgyal Rinpoche. We shared many good moments together at that time. We admired Henri’s art and his philosophy of art. When we knew him, he was an imposing figure, larger than life it seems, and utterly charming.
We extend our sincere condolences to you at this time. His memory lives on in us and we’re sure that our good wishes will help him in the bardos.
With warmth and affection, Jim Heller
What a remarkable and inspiring life Henri lived! And what a remarkable life the two of you shared together. I feel grateful to have known and worked with you, Natasha, and to have heard about your adventures with Henri first-hand. May the wonderful memories of your life together provide some comfort during this sad time. With love, Rosemary
On behalf of the historic Circumnavigators Club, I would like to offer our sympathy for the loss of distinguished Circumnavigator Henri. He was a faithful supporter of the Club’s mission to make the world a better place through friendship and understanding. He left the world better than he found it. He will be missed.
Pieter van Bentum
Dear Natasha, I’m so sorry to hear of Henri’s passing. It makes me realize what a pitty it is that we didn’t meet more often, but glad with the times we did. Love and peace to you , Natasha. And to all that were in Henri’s life,
Pieter van Bentum.
Thom & Viola VandeRuyt
Dear Natasha, we have enjoyed reading Henri’s life history in this fine tribute. Such an accomplished man, living life to the fullest. It was a privilege being able to know him over the last few years at the Union Club. We will remember his enthusiasm for snooker and billiards. His good humour and his high standard of fair play and good sportsmanship will be missed. We look forward to seeing you again on the old green baize.
Dear Natasha, Judy and I are very sad to hear of Henri’s passing. Henri was a uniquely talented and kind human being who touched and enriched the lives of all those who even briefly shared for a while his path through life. And Henri’s crowning glory, the adventurous life that you and he shared for so many years, is a wonderful and romantic story.
For me, Henri’s art embodied Aristotle’s philosophy that “Art aims to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Henri will be missed by all of us at the Union Club who were fortunate enough to know him, and who shared his love for the “music of the spheres” performed in our billiards room.
With deepest sympathy, your caring friends Dennett Netterville & Judy Bannard
Empathy with you both…
I send my regards to a great man who lived life fully and who had so many adventures and experiences–ones that most of us merely dream of. Always the gentleman and kind soul, Henri made everyone feel welcome and confortable in his presence. Some evidence of his greatness as an artist was present in his and Natasha’s home and in the set of Organiverse prints. Although I knew them on the rather brief side of only about five or six years, I felt a deep connection as though I had known them for many years, maybe even centuries. I wish Henri well in his new adventure and send warm hugs and love to Natasha in hers.
Dear, dear Natasha, your cherished partner and you were such a wondrous couple! I knew him first at Kinmount, then had the pleasure of meeting you in Vancouver. Henri’s canvasses have graced so many galleries and homes, thanks to his extraordinary eye for colour. I LOVE your obituary story, Natasha, you’ve filled in so many blanks for me. May his journey be one of light and great peace. He has blessed so many throughout this recent appearance. Sending you love, dear heart.
Grace Van den Brink
My heart and thoughts are with you Natasha on Henri’s passing.
A talented man with such a long and interesting life. In addition to him being “valiant, steadfast, compassionate”, I would like to add Gentleman. It was a honour to know him, and the support of you both during my club presidency was appreciated. I felt he was my talisman whenever I would see him in the Reading Room.
As you say, he has now embarked on a new journey. I will think of him when I look to the stars at night. His light will continue to shine as his art and writings live on.
Let’s raise our snooker cues in Henri’s honour soon Natasha. Take care.
Ted and I both cherished our friendship and love for Henri and rejoiced whenever we heard from him and Natasha. He was generous with his heart and his mind, always creative, he set a high-water mark for a life lived with interity, focus and compassion.
His life was a contribution to this planet, something you express very wll in the obituary, Natasha. Thank you for that and for your steady and loving presence to the end.
We will keep him in our hearts as he journeys on.
Sorry to hear of Henri’s passing. As a fellow Circumnavigator, it was always a pleasure to interact with Henri. His love of travel, art and humanity transcends his existence and he is one of the people who made our planet a better place. “Luck to You” now that you are “Over the Horizon” Henri!. All the best to Natasha, family and friends.
Dear Natasha – I am thinking of you and your family and sending condolences on the passing of your beloved partner. Henri was a true gentleman, a remarkable adventurer, and an exceptional artist who drew us in through his art and made us think about the world around us. He was always kind and gracious in my presence. Wishing you peace and comfort as you reflect on the life you shared.
I’ve known few great men
I name a true friend–
None comparable to your Henri, Natasha
A friendship, I’ve held close–
His loss, I now share with you
Dear Natasha — I feel for your loss, although I only knew Henri through your reflection of him and a few of his paintings at the Dharma Centre. NR always spoke of him with the greatest respect.
My sincere condolences for your loss. Such an accomplished man! I am so sorry for your loss. I am sending you a big hug.
What a great human being and artist Henry was…I met him a few times and it was always very interesting to talk with him…as a Dutchman one of his great hobbies was cycling, especially ‘The Tour de France’ was every year again one of his great happenings. Also one of my big interests too! So me living in Europa and he very far away (Victoria ), we had long phone calls about this event . He knew everything in detail! Unforgettable..I am sure he had a good and very long life…especially with his ‘great Natasha’ on his side…She has added to his life lots happiness and fun….
I will certainly miss him and wish Natasha to be strong after this heavy loss for her.
If we will be this summer in Vancouver once again, we will certainly come to Victoria, to attend Henrys farewell.
Rest in Peace Henry.
Love to Natascha!
Marion and Andries Gaastra, Antwerp, Belgium
Dear Natasha and family,
My deepest sympathies and condolences. May he rest in peace.
A simply remarkable story. A life truly well-lived. My thoughts are with the family, especially the equally-remarkable Natasha.
Dear Natasha and family, my deep condolences, heartfelt embraces! What an extraordinary life! R.I.P., Henri!
Henri’s bright clear mind even under the duress of illness, has been and will continue to be a real inspiration to me as the way to both embrace life in its fullness and to keep moving forward. I always felt a great enthusiasm and curiosity for life in his presence, and an immense warm hearted generosity of spirit. My heartfelt condolences to Natasha and his extended family members. Henri will always remain an inspiration to me in the art of being a loving citizen of the world. I fully trust he has become radiant waves of light in his departure.
Dearest Natasha, you were such partners! You brought each other joy, Henri’s art brought joy to others and your work to protect the planet brought joy to those of us who’ve worked with you. Condolences and celebrations to you and all Henri’s loved ones. Love and peace to all of you xo
Henri was such a talented artists and a great storyteller. He had an extraordinary life travelling the world and experiencing different cultures.
We are thinking of you, Natasha, during this very difficult time.
What a lovely man and a loss to this world with his passing! I studied art and colour with Henri, and of all else, that is still how I think of him most – as the embodiment of light and colour. It is a rare gift we need more of. I have since bought many of his paintings, which now fill my own home with his vision of colour, light, and the organic patterns the play in the macroscopic and microscopic alike.
Yet, it was as a steadfast friend that I most value Henri. He had a kind of loyalty and commitment to people that was rare. He and Natasha have been here for me as a friend for decades, always staying in touch and reaching out even as I moved back and forth to India and took positions in the prairies.
Henri was a deeply spiritual man reminiscent of a kind of eclectic interest rare in these days. Even in his 90s, he was constantly reading and recommending books and delving into very scholarly and difficult topics. As a professor myself, I marvelled at his lively and engaged intellect that came more from life than schooling.
His greatest good fortune in life, of course, was to meet and fall in love with Natasha. What a pair! They were deeply devoted to one another and seemed to reinforce for one another an exceptional integrity in the way they lived their lives and navigated livelihood.
Since his passing, a poem by Walt Whitman keeps playing through my mind, so I thought to post it here – O Captain! My Captain. Henri loved the ocean and worked and travelled extensively through his life on ships, so it is an apt farewell:
O Captain! My Captain!
BY WALT WHITMAN
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Phyllis (PJ Heyliger
We met Henri and Natasha on an Around World Cruise, from that time, we developed a bond that was never broken. Henri was such a talented person in so many ways. We enjoyed the stories of his great adventures. We have stayed in touch for years. I know we are going to sadly miss our almost daily correspondence. Henri, we will never forget you.
John de Jardin
Happy trails, old friend. May your journey bring you to ever-new adventures. Sarva Mangalam
I’m so sorry to hear of Henri’s passing. His talent and artistry will live on in your heart and many others. Sending hugs your way, Natasha.
I was deeply saddened to learn of Henri’s passing. We first met in 1999 on a World cruise where Henri was teaching an art class. I always enjoyed being in his company and for a while as a member of the Circumnavigators Club that Henri was so involved with. It was a privilege knowing him. My sincere condolences to Natasha and Henri’s family.
Bon voyage Henri. May there be fair to seas and gentle winds over the next 49 days. Natasha, he was a very special individual
Barb Lovett Holmes
Thinking of you Natasha at this difficult time. 51 years is a long time, with many wonderful memories upon which to reflect.
You shared an amazing life with an amazing man.
Linda and Stan Oglov
What an exceptional man, artist, world traveller and partner to dear Natasha. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful, accomplished and gifted individual. Much love and condolences Natasha.
Thinking of you dear Natasha in the loss of your life partner. Henri was quite a notable man. I enjoyed our time together when Phyllis and I visited you in Victoria. Please know that my thoughts are with you as you depart on this uncharted journey without your life partner.
What a beautiful tribute, Natasha. He is beaming down on us from the starry skies, hanging out among the nebulae and continuing to be amazed. What a magnificent life!
Many thanks for mailing us the program for the August 13th celebration of his life. We will continue to love and cherish the art we hold.
All our best,
Ainslie Cook, nee Goodman