Very little is positively known about the artist. He is believed to be identical to a certain Herry de Patenir who joined Antwerp"s Guild of Saint Luke in 1535 as a painter. He may have been related to the landscape painter Joachim Patinir, although he may not have trained under him because of the age difference.
He may have visited Italy but there is no documentary evidence for this.
His work was popular in Italy, where he was known as ‘Civetta’ because of the little owl that often appears in his paintings (usually in a hollow tree or in a cavity between some rocks). The 17th-century biographer Karel van Mander regarded this motif as his signature.
The name Herri met de Bles translates literally from Dutch as Herri with the blaze and was reportedly given him because of his characteristic white forelock. In Richard Powers"s novel, "The Gold Bug Variations (1991)," one of the main characters is working on a dissertation whose subject is Herri met de Bles.
The obscurity of the painter as well as the weirdness of his imagery works into the motifs of the novel.