As a result of political change in Germany, Erwin Bowien decided to leave his homeland and go into exile in Holland. After several legs of his journey, he settled in the town of Egmond aan den Hoef near Alkmaar. He rented a small house, in which the French philosopher Descartes is supposed to have lived during his own exile. It was situated directly opposite the ruins of the count of Egmond’s castle.
The house had three rooms and a kitchen, two attics and a privy with water to refill. The hall had pearl-coloured tiles and the doors were made from a heavy oak.
Erwin Bowien quickly made friends in the area, particularly the Hemelrijk family in Bergen - the head of the family was the headmaster of the grammar school in Alkmaar, who took care of the emigrant lovingly. Artistically speaking, Bowien was right at home in the countryside between Castricum and Camperduin - with its 40km of dunes, coastline and pine forests.
A small documentation about Erwin Bowien's time in Egmond aan Hoef can be found as a download of the book: Peter J. H. Van den Berg, De schilders van Egmond. W. Books, Zwolle, 2021, ISBN 9789462583931
Erwin Bowien received a special request from Egmond’s town council to celebrate the birth of the Dutch crown princess. He was asked to do a portrait of all the children who were born in the area the same year as the princess. This collection of children’s portraits which are unique in the Netherlands are known as the “Egmondse Kinderportretten” and have a special legacy in the history of art. The majority of these portraits are now owned by the Dutch royal family. The rest can be found in the Ayech collection. The name Erwin Bowien will forever be associated with this collection of children’s portraits in the Netherlands.
When painting on the North Holland canal, he met the artist Dirk Oudes, who would later become his pupil. Erwin Bowien was in contact with many Dutch artists, including Graat Van Roggen, Matthias Wichman, Calnot, Vilarsky, Franz Huisman and Charlie Toorop.
Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and Hanns Heinen visited as often as they could. Their friendship was so strong that Erwin Bowien eventually moved into the Black House after the war. Erna Heinen and her daughters stayed with the nanny at Bowien’s house. The had to return home immediately and were unable to accept the Hemelrijks’ generous offer to stay.
Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10th May 1940. Life in occupied Holland was very hard for the artist. He did, however, manage to secure the release of a Dutch prisoner. Faced with the danger of being put to the test by the occupying authorities, he decides to leave the Netherlands and make his way through Germany – as a freelance artist and without valid papers.