Remco Campert

The Satin Heart

An ode to art

Remco Campert’s apparent mildness and light ironic touch towards affairs of the heart have been altering gradually with the onset of old age and its infirmities, and the inevitable approach of death. The time comes for a reluctant final reckoning. In Het satijnen hart (The Satin Heart), this is the prospect facing the well-known painter Hendrik van Otterloo, who bears some resemblance to Karel Appel.

Van Otterloo has lived for art and enjoyed the fruits of fame, but he has never started a family or entered into any serious relationship with a woman. The one attempt he made, involving the hairdresser’s daughter Cissy, ended in drama, and he painted his last major work: a self-portrait, on the night she left him.

It is only years later, when Hendrik sees Cissy’s obituary in the newspaper, that his conscience starts to bother him. In conversations with his only friend, the equally renowned painter Jongerius Jr., he invariably calls Cissy a bitch, and yet she clearly left deep wounds in his soul. The only other person with whom Hendrik has a more or less normal relationship is his half-sister Babette, who regularly comes by to care for him. For all their grumbling and grousing, there is a strong bond between the two, dating back to an experience thirty years before.

Campert’s style, which has become increasingly spare and unadorned, was made for the character of Van Otterloo, a man of few words. For a long time Van Otterloo has questioned the role that art has played in his life. Yet when his frustrations threaten to get the upper hand, his longing to return to art is all that keeps him going, and it even gives him new energy. This makes The Satin Heart intriguingly contrary, as settling scores with the artist becomes an ode to art.

This flawless book is proof that as he gets older, Campert’s skill as a novelist is not waning but waxing.


In the language of Het satijnen hart Campert manages to conjure up a terrifying fear of death which is ultimately conquered by a will to live. That will to live, or creative urge, is indistinguishable from the artistic calling.

NRC Handelsblad

The gentle Sunday’s child of Dutch literature is beginning to stick up for himself.

De Volkskrant

Remco Campert

After a long career, Remco Campert (b. 1929) is still one of the most popular writers in the Netherlands. He started as a poet and short-story writer, but from the sixties onwards he has also published novels, such as his highly successful debut Het leven is vurrukkulluk (Life is Grrreat, 1961).…

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Het satijnen hart (2006). Fiction, 190 pages.

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


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