Belgian Art The Verbaet Collection Part I
Belgian art Caroline & Maurice Verbaet Collection Part I
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Eric Gillis Fine Art T +32 (0)4 73 360 215 W www.eg-fineart.com M email@example.com 14, rue aux laines | 1000 Brussels | Belgium
he works assembled by Caroline and Maurice Verbaet in the last thirty years likely comprise the most significant collection of nineteenth and twentieth century Belgian art ever amassed in private hands, encompassing drawings, paintings and sculptures. The Verbaets are committed to the highest ideals in the understanding and appreciation of the arts. No sign of exhaustiveness, rationalism or convention are found, only evidence of passion and quality, with bias in empiricism and boundless curiosity. Approaching Belgian modern art over the last century has been a constant challenge, an endless share of confrontations and connections with artists, museum curators, private collectors and art dealers. Belgium is a relatively small country, with a complex history; its culture has been shaped by the French, Spanish, and Dutch, with a mix of strong catholic and monarchal influence. The country had to cope with devastation and reconstruction several times during the 19th and 20th centuries. These factors provided very fertile ground for artists who had the energy to seek new direction in painting. They reaffirm that the avantgarde arose independently in many capitals, not just in Paris, and displayed artistic qualities distinct from contemporary trends in the rest of Europe. Belgian art was significant and influential in a time when Europe was undergoing a number of important changes in urban geography, politics and international cultural relations. It also provided avantgarde coherence and continuity across the various artistic movements peppering its history between 1880 and 1920. This coherence and continuity are, for me, the significant underlying trait in the Verbaets’ attempt to define their Belgian art. Three sets of events marked the beginning of modern art in Belgium : first, in 1864, the meeting of Rops and Baudelaire, seminal in generating Belgian symbolism; second, around 1880, the painting of James Ensor’s earliest mature canvases; third, in 1884, the inauguration of a series of annual exhibitions by the group Les XX, founded by Octave Maus. Beside the
solitary genius that was Ensor, Les XX included amongst their Belgian members, representatives of neo-impressionism (in the present catalogue, pieces from Henry Van de Velde and Willy Finch), symbolism (in cat. George Minne and Charles Doudelet) and progressive realism (in cat. Xavier Mellery, Leon Frédéric, Constant Montald and Firmin Baes). Amidst these movements, Leon Spilliaert’s work alone appeared in the early 1900’s as a mix of symbolism and expressionism. The second and third decades of the 20th century were marked in Belgium by the rise of a remarkable movement : constructivism (in cat. Pierre Flouquet, Floris Jespers and amazingly here, Constant Permeke). In the land of Brueghel, Jordaens and Rubens, the development of any form of abstraction is cause for surprise. However, a fully-fledged form of expressionism called the second school of Sint-Martens-Latem (in cat. Fritz Van de Berghe) dawned in Flanders at that time, and later, in Wallonia, with the Nervia group (in cat. Leon Devos). Frans Masereel also joined the expressionist movement but from a totally different, “urban” perspective. As a short-lived prelude to surrealism, Paul Joostens painted and made collages and constructions in the Dada style. The mixture of styles from the foregoing artists provides for the wide-ranging selection offered in the present catalogue. Caroline and Maurice Verbaet are now selling their collection of pre-World War II works, in order to focus on Belgian art dating after 1945. It is a privilege for us, Eric Gillis Fine Arts, to have the commission of selling pieces from this unique private collection. For you, our esteemed client, it is an exceptional chance to acquire rare works of superb quality fitting your taste, and perhaps completing your private or museum collection. Open your eyes, peruse the unusual and wonderful artistic expressions inside this catalogue, or come visit our gallery to behold them in person. Discover a strong form of culture, a reminder of the power of art to heal, teach and inspire. Celebrate art with us. Eric Gillis – firstname.lastname@example.org
Felicien Rops 1833 Namur – Paris 1898 Le Dessous de Cartes d’une Partie de Whist Under the Cards of a whist game Pencil, charcoal and gouache on paper, 1879 Titled LE / DESSOUS / DE / CARTES / D’UNE / PARTIE / DE / WHIST and signed lower right Felicien Rops Sheet 243 x 169 mm Provenance Maurice Pereire, France; Jacques Odry, Belgium (see Lugt 3486); Carlo De Poortere, Belgium (Lugt 3467); C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Robert Delevoy, Felicien Rops, Brussels, Lebeer-Hossmann, 1985, p. 199 Exhibition Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Art belge de 1880 à 1914, 1980 Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Felicien Rops, 1833-1898, 1985, no. 174 (ill.) Namur, Maison de la culture, Felicien Rops, Rops suis aultre de veulx ester, 1998, no. 160, p. 158 (ill.) Quebec, Musée de Quebec, Felicien Rops, 2000, no. 160 Barcelona, Espai Cultural Caja, Felicien Rops 1833-1898, 2004, p. 139
A masterful symbolist sheet by Felicien Rops from the distinguished collections : Maurice Pereire, Jacques Oudry and Carlo de Poortere. This drawing is among the most important works of the seven drawings that Rops made to illustrate the six stories published in Les Diaboliques by Barbey d’Aurevilly (1885 edition). These drawings clearly surpass the limitations of book illustration. Joris-Karl Huysmans described the series as “authentic works, constituted by synthetic images and creative symbols.” Rops indeed does not illustrate scenes from the stories, but rather condenses the dramatic handling into an ensemble of symbols. In a certain sense, the narratives themselves only serve as points of invention; his desire was to interpret his own dream of his times.
penetrate the game. The parallel to the satanic virgins of the Baudelerian Paradis artificiels is obvious. Rops wrote that the artist “must above all depict the character, the moral mood, the passions and the psychological tenor of his time, before starting on the costumes and accessories…” Driven by a first-person knowledge of voluptuousness, he was convincingly and constantly able to summon up pleasure, unconventional and unashamed. But he looked for striking people all the more and all the deeper when he painted the consequences to which freedom leads in an unfree world. Here, he preceded the radical, critical tendencies of psychoanalysis. Rops portrayed women not in the role of victim, but rather as counterweight to the stupidity and wickedness of a hypocritical majority. He showed how the ruling bourgeoisie – in its aggressive narrow-mindedness and intolerance – stamps the passions as expressions of hysteria, and brands free people (notably women) as Satan’s servants.
The devilish women of Barbey – and the drawings of Rops – made a break from the 19th century archetype of woman as an underdeveloped being, will-less victim of animal instincts. Here these imaginary women exhibit self-control, cruelty and an indifference towards death. The protagonists’ secret was central, with unbreakable refusal to divulge it. Their life was a game, and the rules written by themselves; their masks never came off. One could say about them : cold but the fires of hell burn behind the ice; woe to those who dare approach. The Countess du Tremblay de Stasseville in the present work is veiled in haughty silence about her motives, and it is just this ungraspable mystery that Rops was able to so efficiently summon up. The viewer remains fascinated, but will never
In these few drawings, some key works of his oeuvre, Rops inhabits the edge between realism and symbolism, but the under-the-skin violence and the triumphal stance of the women go much farther than in the twilight-veiled melancholy of symbolist works. These drawings did not wish to please, but to provoke. Rops worked like he aims to set in no uncertain terms just how broad and deep is the gulf between what can be and what is allowed.
Xavier Mellery 1845 – Brussels – 1921 Baptême sur l’Ile de Marken Baptism in Marken Island Watercolor, lavish, pastel, pen and ink on paper, ca. 1878-84 Signed lower left X MELLERY Sheet 520 x 800 mm Literature Vincent Vanhamme, Xavier Mellery / L’Ame des choses, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 2000, p. 101 Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
One of the most fascinating drawings from the Marken period of Xavier Mellery. A stunning prefiguration of the Symbolism to come in his oeuvre and in the one of his contemporaries, Khnopff (Mellery’s pupil), Degouve de Nuncques, Delville, Doudelet, Minne, etc.
Marken was to Mellery what Brittany was to Gauguin : a lost paradise. Mellery’s stay on Marken represented a turning-point in his artistic development. He distanced himself from his academic training and secured a place in the Naturalistic movement of the Belgian avant-garde at the end of the 1870s, introducing in that way to the forthcoming Belgian Symbolism that the social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. At that time not yet a tourist trap, Marken was a locality where a fisher’s colony still was able to maintain its customs and mores. Mellery is struck by the islanders’ pride and integrity; his still realistic works evoke the threatened genuineness that he continually seeks out in intimate interiors and in designs for wall decorations. He already strives for the quiet of a dam erected against the ubiquitous hubbub.
Upon his return from Italy in 1875 (he won the Prix de Rome, including a grant for a four-year study tour), Mellery became acquainted with the lawyer Edmond Picard, the writers Camille Lemonnier and Emile Verhaeren and the collector Arthur Boitte, among others. In the numerous letters to his friends in that period, he wrote about his artistic ideal and his constant attempts to advance his art : “In point of fact, we may be certain that the most beautiful things in art are those that have yet to be said.” Mellery’s works with Marken Island as their subject represent an important milestone in his career. His introduction to the island took place in 1878 through the writer Charles De Coster, who needed illustrations for his description of the Netherlands in the magazine Tour du monde.
Drawings in colors from this influence in Mellery’s work are pretty rare to find in this quality. A few were sold in the 90’s, including this one, but since then this quality has been harder to find.
James Ensor 1860 – Ostend – 1949 Les Pommes rouges The red Apples Oil on canvas, 1883 Signed lower right ENSOR. Canvas 61.5 x 76 cm. Reference : Tricot 255 Literature Emile Verhaeren, Sur James Ensor, Brussels, 1908, p. 111; Grégoire Le Roy, James Ensor, Brussels, Van Oest, 1922, p. 177; Jacques Janssens, James Ensor, Flammarion, Paris, 1990, p. 5 (ill.) Provenance O. François, Brussels; coll. Hartog, Brussels; Mrs. Jean Krebs, Brussels; Fondation Veranneman, Brussels; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Exhibition Zürich, Kunsthaus, James Ensor, 1983, no. 43 London, Barbican Art Gallery, James Ensor : 1860 - 1949 : Theatre of masks, 1997, no. 20 Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts, James Ensor, 1999-2000, no. 63 Tokyo, Tsu City Fukushima, Kitakyushu, Takamatsu, James Ensor : Japonism to modernism. 2005, no. 13 Frankfurt, Schrin Kunsthalle, James Ensor, 2005-06, p. 132; New-York, MoMa, James Ensor, 2009, p. 194
eventually transform the tablecloth into a volume of textured light. The latter acted as a sculptor giving shape to the oval of the egg, the two turnips and the shaded board, while offering a vivid setting for the red apples. Painted with brilliant carmine red, the red apples form the highest point of the work, giving it its full achievement. Significantly, Ensor used the same red to sign his work.
From 1876 to the end of his life, still life was a constant concern in James Ensor’s work : household goods, chinoiseries, porcelain, figurines, masks and shells. He painted them driven by an obstinate goal : combine colors and light, two fundamental points in his oeuvre. In 1883, he painted no less than eight still life’s. The year before, he painted The Oyster Eater, “The first Impressionist painting in the Belgian art history” according to Emile Verhaeren. Beside his other fantasy subjects, one should not forget that Ensor was primarily a strong impressionist painter. He did express this orientation many times in his writings and speeches, and as a motto for his barony in 1929, he chose Pro luce nobilis sum.
Under the influence of his friend Guillaume Vogels, Ensor often smeared the paint with his palette knife, he used it not for fine details but to obtain a swift and deliberate synthesis of the scene. As seen here, what could have been an almost grisaille painting, turned into a canvas full of life. Within the oeuvre of Ensor, The red Apples is a very fine example of his wide-ranging means of artistic expression, combining a rich range of luminous or shaded whites with strong saturated colors, together with the use of the palette knife to emphasize solid forms. It immediately comes to mind some works of Cézanne, also a “painting sculptor”.
Indeed, in the present painting, Ensor treated the white tablecloth in a way that immediately reminds how Claude Monet treated the white snow in his painting The Magpie (Musée d’Orsay) combining whites, grays of many different shades, light blues and even touches of faint pink that
Willy Finch 1854 Brussels – Helsinki 1930 Paysans jouant aux cartes Peasants playing cards Oil on canvas, ca. 1883-84 Signed lower left W. Finch Size 71.8 x 94 cm Reference Danielle Derrey-Capon, “Peintures” in A.W. Finch 1854-1930, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1992, no. 5 (dated ca. 1885) Provenance Collection Cwalosenski (according to Derrey-Capon); Jean Renard, Brussels; his sale, Galerie Giroux, 7.12.25, no. 104; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Puck, “Petits vers de XX”, in La Chronique, Brussels, 18 February 1886, no. 48 “Les XX”, in La Belgique, Brussels, 22 February 188, no. 53 Exhibition Brussels, Les XX, Musée Moderne, 1886, no. 1
In our opinion, the present work is the best early Finch painting ever made by the artist, within his naturalism period; before he turned to pointillism in 1887 for a few years with a very small production and then finally to neoimpressionism from 1898 onwards when he moved to Finland. The connection with Ensor works is so obvious that it even makes us wonder whether Finch and Ensor did compete to represent the archetype of the Ostend peasant or fisherman. The two men were actually pretty close as young painters and worked together. Ensor pictured Willy Finch at the easel, in his studio, painting in the dune, etc. several times in the early 80’s. They had the same model in the studio and it even occurred that the artists painted exactly the same subjects, like for instance The Skate (both canvas at the Museum of Fine Arts of Antwerp). From the drawings made in 1881-1883 of Ostend peasants, their manner is pretty identical, and if the sheet is not signed, one can get in trouble to attribute it to one or the other. Leon Léquinne wrote in February 1884 about the first Les XX exhibition in Le Journal de Bruxelles : “Est-ce Finch qui fait du Ensor ou est-ce Ensor qui fait du Finch?” [Is Finch doing like Ensor, or Ensor doing like Finch?].
However the number of Finch paintings of this time that finally came to us is pretty small, probably around ten pieces. The present work has been shown at the Les XX exhibition in 1886. For this reason it has been dated of ca. 1885 by DerreyCapon. It seems obvious however that the painting must be dated earlier, ca. 1883-84, by similar stylistic points with Ensor works. Some connections also can be made with some Finch drawings exhibited at L’Essor in 1882 and 83. The palette is dark and tawny, nervous, material and expressive. The central window radiates in the room. His 1886 palette will be more colorful. Three preliminary drawings exist, all in the Museum of Fine Arts of Tournai, and their design is closer to the 1880-1884 drawings than the 1886 ones. Finch was instrumental during the 1880’s artistic developments in Brussels. He represented the genuine Belgian Impressionism. He was a member of La Chrysalide, L’Essor, Le Cercle des Aquarellistes et des Aquafortistes, also a founding member of the leading artistic group Les XX in 1883. Finch was the first Belgian painter, under the influence of Georges Seurat, to defend and produce significant Pointillist works between 1886 and 1892 using an abstract construction in rhythmic patterns. This is one of the reasons why he fell out with Ensor who saw pointillism as a threat against his art and his influence among the Les XX members.
Henry Van de Velde 1863 Antwerp – Oberägeri 1957 Paysan et jeune Citadine aux champs, à Kalmthout Peasant and young City-dweller in cornfields, in Kalmthout Pastel and touches of lavish on paper, 1890 Dated and signed upper left with pencil 1890 / v.d.Velde Sheet 432 x 230 mm Reference Erika Billeter in A.M. Hammacher, Le Monde de Henry van de Velde. Anvers, Mercator, 1967, no. 81, p. 332 (ill. and titled “Deux femmes courbées travaillant aux champs”) Provenance Alfred Roth, Zürich; André Bollen, Antwerp; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Exhibition Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten / Otterlo, Kröller-Müller, Henry van de Velde, Dec. 1987 – May 1988, no. 29, p. 202 (ill. with the dedication on the support sheet, now lost : “à Alfred Roth, à l’occasion de la “Noël” 52/en témoignage d’une amitié/ croissante et reconnaissante./(s.)”)
The project of the Attitudes series was pursued the year after in February - March 1892 under title Annotations et attitudes, about which Verhaeren wrote on February 17 in La Nation : “le faire vermiculaire modèle heureusement les bosses de l’ombre et de la clarté sur les surfaces. Cela est puissant et simple” [the worm-like, undulating line happily gives shapes to the humps of shadow and light on the surfaces. This is powerful and simple]. Only one drawing was sold, Le Faucheur, to the music composer Eugène Ysaye (see L’Art moderne, 13 March 1892) and six of them, so far unidentified, were later exhibited in May in Antwerp at L’Association pour l’Art.
One of the best neo-impressionist drawings ever by Henry Van de Velde, which can be counted on one hand only, and are the first brilliant premise of the ornamental line. The artist kept all these early drawing up to the end of his live or nearly, in his own collection. The present one was given in 1952 to his friend and Swiss architect Alfred Roth. Most probably, it belonged to a series entitled Attitudes initially planned for the VIII exhibition of Les XX in February-March 1891. Although his name was mentioned in the catalogue, Van de Velde gave up displaying it (see Les XX & La Libre Esthétique, Brussels, Museum of Fine Art, 1993, p. 57). However, he gave his instrumental lecture on February 19th (1891) under the title Le Paysan en peinture [The Peasant in painting], that was partially published three days later in L’Art Moderne and in full in L’Avenir Social in 1899. Amazingly there was not a single word about Vincent Van Gogh works, even not in the full and amended version. Notwithstanding, he might have seen a few paintings of the Dutch artist at the Independent from 1888 onwards, and the six paintings exhibited at Les XX in 1890, but no drawings. Possibly, Van de Velde saw for the first time drawings of Van Gogh on paper only a few days before his lecture at Les XX (1891). Nevertheless Van Gogh works really liberated his drawing, somewhat rigid until then. Van Gogh painting sustained and drove the dynamics of Van de Velde expression line, liberated his stroke into a whirlpool of intense colors. It is well known that when Van de Velde had the opportunity to see some works of Van Gogh, during his honeymoon in 1894, he experienced such a shock that he decided to give up painting.
The scene pictures a peasant, with a cap, standing, that is viewed from above along a vertical axis, immersed into a blond field of wheat that he is harvesting. Besides him, a woman bends herself forward. Who is she? A gleaning peasant woman... “One of those rude and man-like creatures, irresistibly sensual, with neither affectation nor grace” according Van de Velde’s lecture? On the contrary, she is a young woman, her fair hair elegantly combed, maintained with a black knot on the back. She wears a long blue dress that undulates in phase with the green background. The peasant women of Millet or Pissarro – the references of Van de Velde – always wear a cap or a shawl, their bodies bended by heavy works, shaped with angular lines, not serpentine. We have here two widely different social worlds, symbolized in colors, yellow and blue, that meet at their border. Here Van de Velde do depart from the compositions of Millet, while keeping the organic movements of the bodies, dear to Pissarro (see the 1891 lecture).
Van de Velde dated his drawing of 1890 but Hammacher assume that the signature was probably later. Only a few drawings from that time are signed. We also presume that Van de Velde wrongly dated his work a few months too earlier relying on his souvenirs and that the drawing was made ca. 1891, for stylistic reasons. Our drawing exemplifies one of the first research of his ornamental line that will become the major axis of his applied arts. At the end of 1891, he will systematically use this wave-like line that surrounds the peasant, in his Projet de broderie ornementale, exhibited at Les XX, in February 1892, a famous tempera painting (Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva). On that occasion, Verhaeren entitled it Une fenaison (some say La Faneuse) and saw it as “a synthesis of lines with an indication, dense and powerful, of the edges of light” (La Nation, op. cit.). Our drawing naturally leads us to the summer 1891 and the new “dynamographic” venue. As Van de
Velde said, the pastels “give an idea of what I am looking for, I am trying to discover : a radical écriture the strokes of which would follow pitiless the bodies of my models deformed by heavy work” (quoted by Mrs. Billeter, from the German text Die linie, 1902, op. cit. p. 322). Definitely, this drawing is among the master works of the Verbaet collection. It is worth to be examined from many perspectives. The dynamics of the spirals is very impressive. Among the rare and important drawings from this period still preserved, the lightning strength of the colors and the expressivity of the ornamental lines already transcend here the topic. We thank Pascal de Sadeleer for writing this entry with our collaboration.
James Ensor 1860 – Ostend - 1949 La Mort poursuivant le troupeau des humains
Etching and drypoint printed with tone on paper, and hand-colored in red, yellow, and blue chalk, 1896 Signed and dated lower right James Ensor 96 Plate 235 x 175 mm References Delteil ; Taevernier , 2nd state of three; Elesh 106, 2nd state of four Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
The iconography of this amazing print can be related to the medieval theme of the Triumph of Death, transformed here by numerous typically Ensorian elements. At the time of the Ensor retrospective at the Kunstkring in Rotterdam in 1910, Ary Delen gave a fairly precise description of this plate : “D’une rue étroite surgit une foule énorme : homme, femme, vieillards, curés, moines et sacristains, soldats et bourgeois, aristos et prolétaires, juges et avocats, assassins et roi, paysans, épicier, clowns. Par la fenêtre ouverte d’une maison où plonge, tête première, un squelette, on aperçoit de vieux messieurs qui font ripaille, des femmes buvant à table; un glouton vomit sur la tête des passants. La mort, un squelette hideux, monstrueux, descend d’un ciel de flammes et de spectres, brandissant comme un sinistre drapeau noir, la faux démesurément longue” [From a narrow street appears a huge crowd : men, women, old men, priest, monks and sacristans, soldiers and bourgeois, aristocrats and proletarians, judges and lawyers, killers and
kings, peasants, grocers, clowns. Through the open window of a house, from which a skeleton plunges head first, we can see two feasting men, women drinking at the table; a glutton vomiting on the head of the passers-by. Death, a hideous, monstrous skeleton, descends from a sky full of flames and specters, brandishing an excessively long scythe like a sinister black flag] (Tentoonstelling van werken van James Ensor, p. 173). Some have seen in this image a reflection of the growing social unrest in the Belgium of the 1880s. Others see in it a symbol of Death leaping in vast strides over the procession of the Carnival in Rio, a city devastated by cholera in 1876, as represented by Angelo Agostini and who squeezes the crowd into a kind of tunnel with no way out. A wonderful impression of one of the artist’s most famous prints. Proofs with hand-coloring are extremely rare.
Leon Frédéric 1856 – Brussels – 1940 Les trois Sœurs The three Sisters Oil on canvas, 1896 Signed and dated lower left Leon Frédéric 1896 Canvas 120.5 x 95 cm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
A superb and powerful Frédéric picture painted in 1896. As often in Frédéric’s work from the mid-1880s, social representation hides a strong symbolism united to a Christian mysticism still vivid in the countryside. This was the ground of his profound involvement in naturalism in line with ideas developed at the same time by critics like Camille Lemonnier, in Brussels, and earlier John Ruskin in England. It brings the acceptation of a frugal life and misfortune of poverty as the aftermath of the industrial modernity. But nothing leads to revolt. Poverty and social reform remain accepted in faith.
A student at the Brussels Royal Academy, and pupil of Jean-François Portaels, the character of Frédéric’s work was fundamentally formed by the Italian and Flemish art of the 15th and 16th centuries and the painting of the PreRaphaelites, notably the result of a visit of two years in Italy (1876-78), and of direct contact with the works of the Renaissance in Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome. He became a member of the Brussels-based association L’Essor, a group of young artists who wanted to paint contemporary social reality instead of using imaginary, or literary themes as an artistic starting point. Subsequently, his work was exhibited in Ghent, Liège, Munich, Nice and Paris. He was awarded golden medals for painting at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and 1900. Currently less known than Ensor or other later 19th century Belgian artist of that time, Frédéric was very popular at that moment; an opinion poll in Belgium in 1925 ranked at the first place of most famous Belgian artists.
This realistic work is a construction, not a representation. The peasant girls are also there for the stirring effect they provide, especially through the red dresses. With extreme precision in the faces, the artist translated their unfortunate lot into a state of graceful resignation. Working during the age of Impressionism and its offspring Divisionism and Post-Impressionism, Frédéric’s supra-realism comes as a considerable and impressive surprise.
Charles Doudelet 1861 Lille – Ghent 1938
Two Imploration, after Maurice Maeterlinck (cat. 9 and 10)
These are two fascinating sheets and compositions by one of the most significant Belgian symbolist artists, who mainly worked for and after Maurice Maeterlinck. He remains nowadays only confidential to a very small circle of amateurs and historians. Pen and ink drawings by him from his Symbolist period are extremely rare to find in public and private collections, although they strongly demonstrate an unusual and terrific talent and graphic innovation. He formed with George Minne the first ring of illustrators around Maeterlinck, using both a linear and refined style, close in some extend to some of Jan Toorop’s works between the same years 1894 and 1896.
mentioned in the exhibition catalogue, but befriended some of the members, hence that possibility. The same year, 1887, the city of Ghent provided Doudelet with a grant that enabled him to travel to Italy. He made the trip with Constant Montald, also from Ghent and winner of the ‘87 Prix de Rome. Back to Ghent in 1888, Doudelet exhibited drawings after Italian artists of the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1890 he participated in the Prix de Rome, but without success. The competition was held in Antwerp; he met there Constantin Meunier and took some lessons with
Doudelet was born in Lille in 1861. After his father’s dead, both mother and the sixteen year old Charles went to live in Ghent, where the young boy combined his studies with a job, to make a living. After the classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, in 1882 Doudelet worked for Prof. Emile Van Ermengem at the University and was asked to reproduce in drawings, what this eminent bacteriologist observed through his microscope. His renderings were crowned with a silver medal at a Paris exhibition in 1884 and a gold one in Bordeaux the following year. In 1887 Doudelet is thought to have exhibited his drawings in the University’s exhibition hall. We were unable to find any reference about this first public exhibition of his art. It is possible that he exhibited together with members of a newly formed artists’ collective called “Wij Willen” [We Want] which had its first show that year at the same venue. Doudelet is not Portrait of Maurice Maeterlinck
Cat. 9, detail
him. Walking around at the Ghent Salon of 1892, Doudelet encountered the prolific editor Louis De Busscher and joined the founding group of a new literary magazine, with Louis’s brother, Lucien, and Albert Guéquier : Le Réveil (1892-1895). It became one of the most significant symbolist magazines in Belgium, collaborating with Grégoire Le Roy, Charles Van Lerberghe and Maurice Maeterlinck, all major figures of symbolism.
tout court; synchronisation, harmonie parfaite entre le poète et les images créées par son interprète. […]” [… for me, it is the masterpiece of Charles, or, better, a masterpiece by itself, perfect synchronism and harmony between the poet and the images created by his interpreter…]. The two works offered here have been often titled “Imploration, after Maeterlinck” in Doudelet’s oeuvre. They are similar in size and technique. However, no links with any Maeterlinck text have been unambiguously identified so far. The title recall somehow Oraisons [Prayers] in the famous Serres chaudes, suggesting the same weird atmosphere of symbolist religiosity. It seems even that Doudelet did his utmost to make them inscrutable, following in this way one of the primary substance of Symbolism : mystery. We try however in the following entries to identify possible Maeterlinck influences taken by this fascinating artist : Charles Doudelet.
Doudelet was drawn to Maeterlinck’s writings. The poet had a huge influence on the young artist even before they met. In a review published in La Flandre Libérale of the 27th of November 1892, a critic saw in the paintings of Constant Montald and Charles Doudelet a visual representation of the Maeterlinck (theatrical) literature. Whereas Montald moved in a different direction, the symbolism of Doudelet grew closer and closer to the Maeterlinck world, and even more when they started to know each other. Maeterlinck commissioned Doudelet to paint two mural paintings for the family castle in Oostakker around 1895, the same year he asked Doudelet for a portrait drawing to be published in Les Hommes d’Aujourd’hui. Doudelet is also responsible for an illustration for La Mort de Tintagiles in a booklet for the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in Paris, also in 1895. Doudelet was however not Maeterlinck’s first choice to illustrate his new assemblage of songs, called Douze Chansons; the writer apparently preferred George Minne with whom he already had published two illustrated volumes. As Minne was unable to deliver the illustrations on time, Maeterlinck asked Doudelet in February 1896 to illustrate it. About the Douze Chansons, Maeterlinck never repented his choice and in a letter to Doudelet’s widow, written in 1939, he stated : “[…] a mon avis, c’est le chefd’œuvre de Charles, et, pour mieux dire, un chef-d’œuvre
Illustration by Doudelet from Douze Chansons
Cat. 10, detail
Charles Doudelet 1861 Lille – Ghent 1938 Imploration I Entreaty I, after Maurice Maeterlinck Ink and lavish on paper, ca. 1896-97 Sheet 244 x 352 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
The present Imploration is dominated by huge ascending waves carrying upwards veiled shadows as if they were the souls abandoning the dead bodies lying below, to reach the realm of the ascending sun. One could adduce “les malades au soleil” [the sick-men at sun] in Vision, also represented by Minne in the beginning of Désirs d’Hivers. The sun starts to illuminate the domes of churches or sophisticated greenhouses, a possible link with the Serres chaudes :
The waves can also be compared to the strange marine graves or jets of water in Serre d’ennui. Doudelet treated this like Minne did with the downpours for the Princess Maleine frontispiece. In the dark foreground, men attempt fiercely but hopelessly to overcome a tall palisade, suggesting the insurmountable separation between the living and the dead, a classical “Maeterlinckian” theme. Finally the solitary figure on the right, observing the scene from the top of a pillar, may recall those who, in Maeterlinck, try to adopt an overhanging view as the Old Man in Intérieur.
Ô serre au milieu des forêts! Et vos portes à jamais closes! Et tout ce qu’il y a sous votre coupole! Et sous mon âme en vos analogies!
We thank Fabrice van de Kerckhove for his great input in identifying possible sources of inspiration from Maeterlinck.
O greenhouse in the middle of the forests! And your doors forever sealed! And all that there is under your dome! And in my soul, in your analogies!
Charles Doudelet 1861 Lille – Ghent 1938 Imploration II Entreaty II, after Maurice Maeterlinck Ink and lavish on paper, ca. 1896-97 Signed lower right Charles Doudelet Sheet 264 x 385 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
This second Imploration recalls, of course, the liturgical tune of the Serres chaudes or the processions and litanies of the nuns in La Princesse Maleine. One finds here “women with fantastical nun-like appearance” that were evoked, in reference to Maeterlinck, in an account of the Doudelet exhibition appearing in L’idée libre1 in 1901. The artist diverts the traditional iconography of the Last Judgment towards a Gnostic sense (as sometimes found in Maeterlinck’s work) and puts emphasis on an exacerbated idealism : the women he creates are fighting against the openings of tombs, trying to prevent the resurrection of the bodies lying within. Doudelet’s eschatological vision favors a pure surge of the soul, at last free from any physical envelopment, a surge suggested by the anthropomorphic flame that occupies the center of the image. We thank Fabrice van de Kerckhove for his great input in identifying possible sources of inspiration from Maeterlinck.
1 J.M., “Notes de partout. A Mons; Exposition Ch. Doudelet et A. Toefaert”, in L’Idée libre, 1901, p. 326-328.
George Minne 1866 Ghent – Sint-Martens-Latem 1941 Le Petit Blessé II The Small injured Figure II Bronze, 1898 Signed in the bronze G Minne 98 Size 26 x 7 x 9 cm Reference Van Puyvelde 22 (“FONDERIE MINNE”) Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
George Minne was arguably the most talented Belgian sculptor of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Small Injured Figure is the first example in Minne’s oeuvre of a stand-alone naked youth with straddled legs. There are two different types of the Small Injured Figure that differ only slightly from each other and that both were executed in various materials : plaster, marble and bronze. The first version dates from 1889, the second and present one from 1898. The complex position of the arms suggests a great physical and psychological tension. The wound that the youth touches on his upper arm is like an excuse to wrap himself up within himself, to hide himself. We recognize herein a form of narcissism, but also a necessity to turn one’s self away from the outside world, a typical attitude that comes back in other work by Minne and finds a high point in the fountain with the Kneeling Youths. His svelte, almost wasted, physique marks a radical departure from the image of the muscular heroic youth so prominent in 19th century sculpture.
instead an elementary and inner strength. Noteworthy is the energetic tension that emanates from the figure in his search for balance. With the Art Nouveau background, Minne aimed with this second version to accentuate a soft, wrapping and graceful line. With humble, molded, delicate figures of a modest format, called scornfully “flippant trinkets” by the conservative press, the young artist reached a remarkable monumentality and he gave expression to a deep human spiritual feeling. The present copy was casted by the Fonderie Minne, the own foundry of the artist in Ghent, starting in 1911. Undoubtedly one of the most well-known symbolist sculptors in Europe, Minne’s delicate youthful figures primarily had influence in the years after the turn of the century (the 8th exhibition of the Secession in Vienna in 1900) and in particular on the Austrian painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka and on the German sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Minne simultaneously forms a bridge between the art of the last quarter of the 19th century and the expressionistic avant-garde of the early 20th century.
While contemporaries, such as Auguste Rodin and Constantin Meunier, usually place the emphasis on the rendering of the harmonious power of the body, Minne’s sculpture radiates
Our thanks to Inga Rossi-Schrimpf for her comments.
Constant Montald 1862 Ghent – Brussels 1944 Les Trois Grâces The Three Graces Pastels and pencil on paper, 1902 Signed and dated lower right Const Montald 02 Sheet 1000 x 670 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
A very fine example of Constant Montald best works, combining dream-like nature and symbolism at the end of the 19th century. Unlike Frédéric, Delville or Fabry at the same time, there was no dialectic around the Fall or the Salvation. Even the social conception seen in his 1890’s works disappeared. All in his works expressed perfection, serenity and immobility, what was called “Idealism”. Early influenced by Whistler’s Peacock Room, Montald made decorative and atmosphere unity predominating over movement and even tri-dimension.
public buildings, with a pedagogic goal. His friends Fabry and Delville did the same. Their vision was to moralize within the public space; the works expressed an ideal neo-gothic style marked by the spiritualty of the Primitives. The works of these Idealist artists positioned themselves against works of social content, as carried by Constantin Meunier for instance. Montald received his artistic education at the Academy of Ghent, and then together with his contemporary Privat Livemont, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1885 until 1886. He won the Belgian Prix de Rome in 1886, which provided him a three years visit in Italy, Greece and Egypt. He became a member of the artistic group Pour l’Art in 1890. In 1892 he married Gabriëlle Canivet, a renowned designer of Art Nouveau motifs. Montald became a friend of Charles Doudelet, Emile Verhaeren and Stefan Zweig. He participated at the Salon d’Art Idéaliste in 1896. His house was built around 1909 and became an important meeting place for numerous artists. Montald became member and later director of the Royal Academy of Belgium between 1896 and 1932. His students there included some of the best-known names of Belgian painters : René Magritte and Paul Delvaux, along with many others.
The three daughters of Jupiter seem portrayed in what looks like a Garden of Eden. The light seems to flow on their body like a fountain. His reference to Puvis de Chavannes was decisive. From 1890, Puvis art influenced a group of French artist – Séon, Osbert, Point and Martin – in touch with Belgian artists. They united around Péladan who deflected their innovations towards a syncretic iconography combining myths, Christian legends and esotericism into a timeless world. Following Puvis monumental works for the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Sorbonne, Montald aimed at putting symbolism in pictures of very large scale, mainly for
Leon Spilliaert 1881 Ostend – Brussels 1946
Key works, 1902-1903 (cat. 12 and 13)
The Seven Women in black and The Cloud were painted circa 1902-1903, a very intense period marked by a great surge in the artist’s talent. The whole of Spilliaert is already there and every aspect of his work can be recognized, with the exception of garish colors which will start appearing in his pieces around 1912-1913. The female image was the major theme of young Spilliaert’s work at the beginning of the 20th century, less for its subject as such than for a point of departure for his transformation of reality. A few months prior to working on the Seven Women in black and The Cloud, Spilliaert was exposed to new artistic trends at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, notably the use of pure colors. However, without negating his affinity for Symbolism and Art Nouveau, Spilliaert chosed to represent evocations of the twilight of the times. Traces of the Jan Toorop graphic design were still present in Spilliaert’s work, as well as the elegance of the end of the 19th century and the complicated sceneries of Fernand Khnopff. But Spilliaert’s mental space was utterly different. Black, dark, lost in limbos, his manner was both totally new and sober. His palette became muted with subtle shades. Through the flashes of light that Spilliaert caused to surge from the paper itself, he imposed strong chiaroscuro effects that are common to all his drawing of the 1901-03 period. Most often, the superposition of light over veils of shadow in China ink, and well delineated pen strokes together with discrete art light in color, are enough to express the subtle darkness of his inner world. The surroundings are simple so that the female figure becomes overwhelmingly present, invasive but transformed. In young Spilliaert’s work, nature is deprived of any sense, it
Cat. 12, detail
stays mute. This is the invention of a new modernity inside the essence of Symbolism. “Munch, De Chirico and Spilliaert are the first, though with different intensities of conscience, to suggest that behind objects, there is nothing. The being is solitary1.” Through their gaze scrutinizing the vacuum, apparently blind to any perception, Spilliaert’s female figures seem to belong to a world which flees from the reality of everyday life. Notwithstanding, they remain human beings possibly personifying the desires, anxieties and fears of the artist himself. The rigid pose of a single figure, or of several figures whose repetition amplifies their effect, is reminiscent of the theatrical attitudes of Maurice Maeterlinck’s heroines. Indeed, inspiration taken 32
from sources of Symbolist literature, first and foremost from Maeterlinck, is the key to Spilliaert’s work as early as 1901. The Seven Women in black portrays a chorus directly reminiscent of Maeterlinck’s Seven Princesses. These lanky and bony women attend an immobile and mysterious meeting. All of Spilliaert’s irony is present in these images that borrow from the realm of dreams, supernatural creatures coming to life on imaginary and ephemeral stages. An anonymous traveler or a brothel madam become birds of prey, ghosts or angels of evil. The relationship young Spilliaert has with women is complex. Besides taking a hard and critical look at them, Spilliaert sees women as woeful. “The ensemble, or feminine complex in the work of Spilliaert turns to the tragic. He does not embellish woman but shows her strangely sensual and elusive2.” This is a typical and outstanding example of how symbolists used to see woman : either as a near divine being or as a satanic one. However, these creatures reflect more the influence of literature than that of Symbolist bestiary. Leon Spilliaert, Selfportrait, 1902
In The Cloud, Spilliaert’s animist faith is clearly focused on the element of Air. The artist gives to the distorted mass the appearance of a female body gliding in an endless drift. The mythological figure or celestial spirit loses its shape, spreading undulating curves without heaviness. On the other hand, the figure also recalls other silhouettes, all influenced by another major literary source for the artist : the Count of Lautréamont. In the 5th stanza of the 4th song of Maldoror, Lautréamont evokes “A whole series of birds of prey, fond of the flesh of others and promoting the use of the chase, beautiful as skeletons that thin out the leaves of the panocos in Arkansas, flutter around your forehead, like servants, submissive and accepted3.” The 3rd stanza of the 4th song4 also suggests a solitary female figure floating between earth and sea, exposed to the wind, defying the brutal strength of the water’s power. These two major works definitely epitomize Symbolism while simultaneously approaching Expressionism. This fallen angel of Spilliaert’s is not subjected to malediction as those of Redon or Munch, but makes use of her obscure forces to emphasize her power of domination. Spilliaert’s well-known works dating between 1907 and 1910 will progressively move away from the symbolist-expressionist ideal, with the exception of his Ostend seascapes, which remained under the symbolist landscape influence of the 1890’s.
Jean Clair, ”Spilliaert l’Européen”, in Leon Spilliaert 1881 – 1946, Brussels, 1981, p. 39. Victor De Knop, manuscript unpublished, ca. 1924-25, Brussels, AHKB, inv. 37.814, p. 1. Lautréamont, Oeuvre Complète, Paris, Gallimard, 1970, p. 172 Idem, p. 164-5
Leon Spilliaert 1881 Ostend – Brussels 1946 Sept Femmes en noir Seven Women in black Pencil and ink on paper, ca. 1902-1903 Signed lower right Leon Spilliaert Sheet 253 x 372 mm Exhibition Antwerp, Ronny Van de Velde, Leon Spilliaert ou la beauté de l’intelligence, Nov. 1998 – Jan. 1999, p. 46 and p. 58 (ill.) Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Spilliaert Un esprit libre, Sept. 2006 – Feb. 2007, no. 15 (ill.) Provenance Artist’s heirs, Brussels; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
Cat. 12, with frame
Leon Spilliaert 1881 Ostend – Brussels 1946 Le Nuage The Cloud Pencil and ink on paper, ca. 1902 Titled Le Nuage and signed lower right Leon Spilliaert Sheet 247 x 362 mm Reference Anne Adriaens-Pannier, Spilliaert Le Regard de l’âme, Brussels, Ludion, 2006, p. 15 (ill.) Exhibition Antwerp, Ronny Van de Velde, Leon Spilliaert ou la beauté de l’intelligence, Nov. 1998 – Jan. 1999, p. 47 and p. 59 (ill.) Gingins, Fondation Neumann, Leon Spilliaert Vertiges et Visions, 2002, p. 32, no. 9 (ill.) Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Leon Spilliaert Un esprit libre, Sept. 2006 – Feb. 2007, no. 41 (ill.) Provenance Artist’s heirs, Brussels; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
Cat. 13, with frame
Firmin Baes 1874 – Brussels – 1943 La petite Fille au Chou The young Girl and the Cabbage Pastel, oil and watercolor on cardboard, ca. 1903 Signed lower right Firmin Baes; signed Firmin Baes and titled on the back La Petite fille au chou Canvas 850 x 705mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
As far as one can judge, Caroline and Maurice Verbaet value it as one of the most impressive portraits ever made by the artist. What is doing this grave young girl of the upper bourgeoisie with this fully grown cabbage on her knees? The latter occupies more than one-third of the painted surface where it displays the full glory of its growth, with leaves after leaves opening themselves to form like a living case for the precious core.
Although pretty unknown outside Belgium, Firmin Baes was recorded as a foremost artist in the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries in Belgium. He was a wonderful draughtsman, adept at charcoal, chalk and pastel, and often worked on a large scale. His father was the painter Henri Baes, professor at the Royal Academy in Brussels. Firmin studied under Leon Frédéric at the same academy between 1888 and 1894. The Frederic impact is actually obvious and very interesting in Baes’ early painting, but endures all his career, notably the “Ruskin influence” dear to Frederic.
When this pastel was made, it was popular to say that babies were brought to the family by a stork during the night or were found in a cabbage at dawn. It is thus not incongruous to suggest that the gorgeous cabbage painted here is a symbol of a future maternity. The girl looks at us, her glaze makes clear that she expects us to take very seriously what this painting express of her. One will appreciate the calm atmosphere generated by the choice of muffled colors dominated by the range of the greens of the cabbage and the dark blue dress. However a light touch of pink around the neck and the light blue knot in the hair, corresponding to the color of the eyes, bring a pleasant juvenile mood to the pastel. It also bears a testimony of the enduring influence of the English critics John Ruskin who, as a strong supporter of the movement Arts & Craft, recommended in his writings to introduce in the arts natural forms like flowers, vegetables, birds and fishes.
At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, he won a bronze medal with his painting The Archers, which brought him to broader notice. The periodical The Artist noted the same year that “M. Firmin Baes is a very young painter, admirably gifted, who neglects no labour to realize his very personal ideal... his skill borders on mastery.” Then, Baes exhibited annually at galleries in Belgium, and also occasionally in Europe and in America. A member of the artist’s association Pour l’Art from 1898 onwards, Baes exhibited with the group almost every year for the rest of his career. His account book lists a total of 1,340 paintings sold to collectors, of which 212 were portraits and 264 were still life subjects, together with 152 nudes and 227 landscapes. But finally, he achieved much success as a talented portrait painter and pastellist.
Paul Joostens 1889 – Antwerp – 1960 Construction
Collage on paper, ca. 1917 Sheet 260 x 200 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Philippe Van Den Bossche, Paul Joostens, Ostend, Muzee, 2014, p. 128 (ill.)
Together with Clement Pansaers and Paul Van Ostaijen, Paul Joostens can be considered as the most key representative of Dadaism in Belgium. However, his friendship with Van Ostaijen rapidly deteriorated and Joostens was put under his so-called “ban of the Holy Cubist church.” During the First World War, Joostens shared a studio in Antwerp with other progressive painters, Jozef Peeters, Edmond Van Dooren and Jan Kiemeney.
its nihilism and urge for destruction attracted him, but also playful attention to coincidence and nonsense. In his abstract collages, made of disposable materials, he showed a strong affinity with Kurt Schwitters and his Merz-collages. In addition, Joostens made – as Schwitters did –assemblages of fabrics, wood, paper, nails and buttons, discovering esthetical possibilities in trivial materials. Later he also made collages with photographs and magazine cuttings, reflecting his fascination for famous actresses such as Brigitte Helm, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Nevertheless he never searched for official recognition by the movement.
This superb and rare work is actually part of a unique and massive collage. After an old photograph showing the artist in his studio, an immense collage appears on the back wall, consisting of huge strips of paper. The original preliminary drawing for this collage (private collection) was both symbolist and futurist in spirit. Featuring a woman floating in a halo of light surrounded by kneeling figures, it related to the early works of Jozef Peeters and was inspired by futurism. The resulting monumental collage itself was then much more abstract. It no longer exists in its original form. Joostens himself cut it into pieces, which he sold as autonomous, pure abstract works of art. This present collage is one of these remaining fragments. According a hypothetical and digital reconstruction made by Van Den Bossche in 2014, the present picture could have been horizontal in the original work.
Joostens remained in the circles of avant-garde literary journals as Ruimte, Lumière and ça ira! In 1922 he published with ca ira! an sparkling essay titled Salopes / Le quart d’heure de rage ou soleil sans chapeau, a Dadaistic account of a nocturnal journey through the skipper’s quarter of Antwerp. The artist occupied a special place in the Belgian art world. Individualistic, he soon turned away from non-objective art, but, contrary to many of his contemporaries, did not select the idea of “community art”. He wrote in 1920 in his Credo du peintre : “J’ai l’idée de création et de destruction. Révolutionnaire n’est pas seulement celui qui hurle pour les autres, mais surtout celui qui détruit en lui-même les attaches du passé-mort. Ainsi je prends conscience des valeurs de la réalité” [I keep the idea of creation and destruction. A revolutionary is not only the one who yells for the others, but who destroys in himself a dead past. So I am aware of the values of reality].
In Belgium Joostens mastered the collage medium as no other. With his anarchist personality, he was intrigued by international Dadaism and its “anti-art”. Especially
Floris Jespers 1889 Borgerhout – Antwerp 1965
Gouache and black chalk on paper, 1920 Signed and dated lower left Floris Jespers 1920 Sheet 205 x 450 mm Provenance Galerie T. Calleja, Antwerp; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Jean Buyck, Floris en Oscar Jespers, de moderne jaren, Antwerp, Pandora, p. 116Jan De Smet (ed.), Modernisme / De Belgische abstracte kunst en Europa, Brussel, Mercatorfonds, 2013, p. 111 Exhibition Antwerp, Hessenhuis, Floris en Oscar Jespers, de moderne jaren, 1996
Two cubist-abstract compositions on paper (cat. 16 and 17)
During the First World War Floris Jespers, along with his brother Oscar, and Paul Joostens, belonged to the intimate circle of the Dadaist poet Paul Van Ostaijen. Van Ostaijen defended his work in numerous articles, and in 1918, Jespers designed the cover for Ostaijen’s book of poetry called Het Sienjaal. After the First World War, Van Ostaijen lived in Berlin for some years, but he maintained close contact with the Jespers brothers. He reread Du Cubisme by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, with whom Jespers conducted an interesting correspondence at that time. After the armistice, Jespers turned to cubism.
for an artist to switch off his subjectivity and in so doing, free himself from reality. Jespers realized the importance of the pure three-dimensional, aesthetic conception of a work of art. During a short time around 1920 he felt the urge to abandon a too figurative way of painting and opt instead for a composition largely consisting of planes and colors. It is clear that Jespers was experimenting in the years 1919 to 1921. His painting was sometimes figurative, sometimes completely abstract as in the present Composition of 1920, or very nearly abstract, as in the one from 1921. The fine inkdrawing from 1921 has a counterpart in a very rare woodcut on silk paper from the same year, in which the head and skirt of a woman are far more recognizable, thus revealing the source of the work. In his painting La Femme voluptueuse (private coll.) also dated 1921, the female figure likewise shimmers through more clearly. (continued on cat.17)
From Berlin Van Ostaijen regularly bombarded his friends in Antwerp with ideas. He defended what he called “immaterial” or “emancipated” cubism, contrasting it with “naturalistic” cubism “à la Gleizes”, which he found superficial. Crucial to him was so-called “de-individualisation”, or the necessity
Floris Jespers 1889 Borgerhout – Antwerp 1965
Ink and watercolor on paper, 1921 Signed and dated lower lef 21 / Floris Jespers Sheet 265 x 252 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Willy van Den Bussche and Jean Buyck, Floris Jespers, Antwerp, Pandora, 2004, p. 45 Jan De Smet (ed.), Modernisme / De Belgische abstracte kunst en Europa, Brussel, Mercatorfonds, 2013, p. 86 Exhibition Ostend, PMMK, Floris Jespers, 2004-05, no. 165
In April of 1920, Jespers’ cubist lino-cut Les grands magasins appeared on the cover of the first issue of ça ira!, a new francophone Antwerp-based avant-garde magazine. In the same year, he published an album of six lino-cuts. It grouped different compositions, ranging in style from expressionism to futurism and non-objective art, carrying such titles as Naked, Japanese Party, Encounter, The Lovers, and The Rewarded, to a more abstract sounding piece called Improvisation. During that summer, Jespers exhibited once again three constructivist canvasses at the salon organized by Sélection in Antwerp. In the early twenties, Jespers joined the art circles in Brussels and abandoned his experiments in abstract art. De Ridder, Van Hecke and, later on, Schwarzenberg became his new promoters. In those years he mixed cubism and expressionism with influence from Chagall, Léger and Campendonk. This work fitted particularly well in the style of the Sélection and Le Centaure galleries, where these international artists also exhibited. Jespers became very much appreciated for his depictions of the circus world as well as beach time recreation, often painted on glass in lively colors. His eclecticism, a response to the trends of the time, was sometimes blamed for his lack of originality and his inclination toward too much decorativeness. But more than any other artist of the period, his paintings from the twenties reveal a virtuoso full of humor, a magician playing with techniques, styles and above all, color.
Constant Permeke 1886 Antwerp – 1952 Ostend In de kroeg In the Tavern Pencil and black chalk on paper, ca. 1923 Signed lower right Permeke Sheet 672 x 500 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
This remarkable drawing can be situated in the years 192223, during which a profound affinity runs through the work of Constant Permeke, Frits Van den Berghe and Gustave De Smet, the three major representatives of the so called “Flemish Expressionism.” From 1922 these artists, who were already friends before the First World War, started to see each other again on a regular basis. Sélection, the new gallery opened in Brussels in 1920 by the art promoters André De Ridder and Paul-Gustave van Hecke played a significant role in the renewal of this friendship.
shows Permeke’s virtuosity as a draughtsman. He plays with light and darkness, exploring the different tonalities and possibilities of the charcoal. The drawing is heightened with lavish, emphasizing its pictoriality. It is both monumental and purified. Rarely Permeke came as close to cubism as in this work. And as cubism and expressionism seem to melt here into each other, seldom he came closer to the work of his friends. Related to Van den Berghe is the dynamic juxtaposition of the planes and the attention to construction. This is also a feature of De Smets art. The insertion of letters evokes the Paris Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, but at the same time it recalls Van den Berghe painting In de Kroezel from 1920 (Ghent, Museum of Fine Arts), with its conspicuous tavern sign.
After the war, Van den Berghe and De Smet returned from the Netherlands and stayed with Permeke in Ostend before the three settled in the region of Sint-Martens-Latem, where besides painting, they looked after the countryside house of the Van Hecke’s. Together they went for long walks and fishing trips, with ample opportunity for sharing ideas. Contrary to De Smet and Van Den Berghe, Permeke was never bound by a contract with Van Hecke or De Ridder, but he exhibited at their gallery up to its closing in 1922. In the short time of its existence Sélection organized several important exhibitions of cubist-related art. Though he developed a personal style, the confrontation with cubism had an important impact on Permeke’s work, which quickly gained more solid structure.
The theatrical setting in which the tavern stands is a recurrent feature in the paintings of De Smet, who as a young man often decorated fun fair attractions. At the same time the drawing bathes in the mysterious atmosphere of expressionist movies of the time. But Permeke still goes a step further. If one omits the windows, an almost abstract work appears. Carefully build up as a game of triangles, with sharp angles standing against surfaces with relief, Permeke creates a feeling of multiple levels of depth. However, in spite of its abstract construction, In de kroeg is not devoid of human presence : behind the window of the left, one can see a seated customer quietly drinking his cup of coffee.
With the exception to his everlasting fascination for the sea, the human figure formed Permeke main inspiration. Immediately after the war he started working on large charcoal drawings featuring fishermen and working women. In de kroeg
One of the chef-d’oeuvres of the Verbaet collection, of the upmost rarity.
Karel Maes 1900 Mol – 1974 Brussels 6 Linos
Linocuts on paper, 1921 Sheet ca. 175 x 205 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
Karel Maes studied at the Royal Academy in Brussels with Pierre-Louis Flouquet, René Magritte and Victor Servranckx. They all exhibited at the Centre d’art and then became involved in the edition of the art paper 7 arts founded by the Bourgeois brothers. After meeting Jozef Peeters he also became member of the circle Modern Art in Antwerp. He also designed the cover of a number of Het Overzicht [The Survey], the international and key art magazine edited by Peeters and Michel Seuphor, which also reproduced his work on a regular basis. In May 1922 Maes joined Theo Van Doesburg, Hans Richter and El Lissitzky in Düsseldorf in their protest against the International Art Congress, which they considered to be not progressive enough. El Lissitzky had introduced Modern Russian art in Western Europe. Maes had already met Van Doesburg personally in 1920 and 1921 in Belgium, where the latter gave several lectures. Maes was the only Belgian artist who participated in the talks that resulted in the creation of the Constructivist International Workers Community and whose signature can be found on the ensuing Constructivist Manifesto.
Linocut played an essential role in the diffusion of abstract art. Almost all artists of the Belgian avant-garde, among them Jozef Peeters, Edmond Van Dooren and Pierre Flouquet published lino albums. They were not only diffused in albums or as postcards but were frequently send for publication to the editorial offices of like-minded art reviews. Maes work found its way to all the Belgian journals, but was also published in De Stijl and Der Sturm. In a late interview Maes, who had been responsible for the illustrations in 7 arts declared unassumingly that when articles arrived too late for getting published he had to look for some “filling”. But these black-and-white works show how ingenious his constructivist research was.
Constructivism barred every representation. It looked for a new language of geometric forms, only composed by lines, planes or color fields. Maes 6 Linos were published in 1920, so two years before the demonstration in Düsseldorf. Their well-proportioned composition shows how well and early he was already acquainted with constructivism at that time. These both powerful and playful arrangements, combining rectangles, triangles, squares and circles show him as one of the important representatives of this international movement.
From our appreciation, a very powerful series and virtually unobtainable in complete set. 48
Oscar Jespers 1887 Anvers – Brussels 1970 Perle fine Real Pearl Marble, ca. 1923-1925 Signed in the marble bottom O. Jespers Size 22.5 x 11 x 22.5 cm Provenance René Victor, Antwerp; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Georges Marlier, “Les expositions à Anvers. Oscar Jespers” in Sélection, 1925, no. 5, p. 70 Georges Marlier, “Oscar Jespers” in Sélection, 1927, no. 5, p. 358 José Boyens, “Jespers, Oscar” in Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek, 7, Brussels, 1977, pp. 419-438 José Boyens, Oscar Jespers, zijn beeldhouwwerk met een overzicht van de tekeningen, Antwerp, 1982, pp. 111 and 116 Jean Buyck, Floris en Oscar Jespers, de moderne jaren, Antwerp, Pandora, 1996, p. 200 José Boyens, Oscar Jespers, beeldhouwer en tekenaar, Wormerveer, Uitgeverij Noord Holland, 2013, p. 140, pp. 142-45, pp. 354-355 Exhibition Antwerp, Salon Kunst van Heden, 1925 Brussels, Galerie Le Centaure, Les 9, 1926 Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, Kunst van Heden, 1935 Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, Oscar Jespers, 1954, no. 6 ‘s Hertogenbosch, Provinciaal Museum, Oscar Jespers. Beeldhouwwerk en tekeningen, 1964, no. 3 Ixelles, Musée, Oscar Jespers, 1966, no. 14 The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Paul van Ostaijen, 1970-71 Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum / Breda, Cultureel Centrum De Beyerd / Knokke-Heist, Cultureel Centrum, Beelden en tekeningen van Oscar Jespers, 1975 Paris, Musée Rodin, Oscar Jespers. Sculptures, 1977, no. 10 Borgerhout, Districtshuis, Huldetentoonstelling Oscar Jespers, 1986, no. 9 Ghent, Museum of Fine Arts, Flemish Expressionism in European Context, 1990, no. 227 Sint Niklaas, Stedelijk Museum, Oscar Jespers en leerlingen, 1995, no. 10 Antwerp, Hessenhuis, Floris en Oscar Jespers, de moderne jaren, 1996, no. 22 Antwerp, Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, René Victor/ een hommage, 1997
Due to its exceptional grace Perle fine can be considered as one of the masterpieces of Oscar Jespers, probably the most remarkable sculptor of the Belgian Interbellum. During a visit to Jespers studio, the Antwerp lawyer and famous collector René Victor is said to have exclaimed : “C’est une vraie perle fine”, hence the name by which Jespers woman’s head has become famous. This numerously exhibited statue belonged originally to René Victor and his wife Frieda, good friends of Jespers. Frieda posed as a model for two of his statues, the cubist version of Frieda (private collection) being one of the few remaining works of his oeuvre in that particular style.
Brancusi, obvious in the oval and closed shape, as in the polished marble. Indeed, its formal perfection and smooth surfaces brings Perle fine close to Brancusi Sleeping Muse I (Washington, Hirshorn Museum). The small vertical of the nose refers to African masks and, a feature also assimilated by Amedeo Modigliani and Ossip Zadkine. Jespers seems to contain himself so that no single element disturbs the perfect curvature of the stone. The harmonic shape can be partly explained by the identical measures of height and depth, both 22.5 cm. The undulation is accentuated by the asymmetric positioning of both mouth and chin. The importance of asymmetry in Jespers work has already been noticed very early by Paul van Ostaijen. It was recognized by Jespers specialist José Boyens, in several works dating from the 1925-30s. It emphasizes Jespers quest to offer an alternative to the well balanced equilibrium of classical sculpture. The asymmetry can also be noticed in a head by Brancusi of 1907 and in early works by Zadkine. Both Zadkine and Jespers exhibited in Brussels in the twenties at Sélection and Le Centaure galleries. While providing great emotion to plastically pure images, Jespers was highly regarded both in the expressionist circles around Sélection and Le Centaure, as well as in their modernist counterpart, around the art paper 7 arts. In 1928 he asked Victor Bourgeois to build him a modernist studio. The year before Henry van de Velde had nominated Jespers for a professorship at the newly opened La Cambre, the Institute of Decorative Arts in Brussels.
This is the sole version of the sculpture in marble. Other versions exist in both black and white ceramic and in plaster. A plaster version was shown during an important early exhibition of modern Belgian art in the museum of Grenoble in 1927, where it is still preserved. When the statue was exhibited for the first time at Kunst van Heden in Antwerp in 1925, the art critic Georges Marlier described it already as “un ovale finement gravé dans le marbre.” Being fragile and introvert, Perle fine might evoke an atmosphere of spiritualism. The prolonged head relates to the art of Amarna, which at that time was in the center of attention due to the recent discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. It can also be associated with the Far East and the refinement of Chinese and Japanese art. But foremost conspicuous is Jespers admiration of the work of the Romanian sculptor Constantin
Paul Joostens 1889 – Antwerp – 1960 Unititled
Mixed media (wood, metal, rope), ca. 1922-24 Size 21 x 7.5 x 7.5 cm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Philippe Van Den Bossche, Paul Joostens, Ostend, Muzee, 2014, p. 145 (ill.), p. 324
A loner, egocentric, not in the least through his difficult character, Joostens stands out in the Belgian art world of the twenties. As early as 1917 he experimented with colorful abstract paper-collages. But it was probably during his trips to Paris in 1919 or 1920 that he really discovered the world of Dada. Together with his one-time friend the poet Paul Van Ostaijen, Joostens worked in the spirit of liberty and revolt against society so typical for the movement, though he never officially belonged to it. During his stay in Berlin, Van Ostaijen had befriended George Grosz, Walter Mehring and Paul Citroen. The remarkable typography of his most famous collection of poems Bezette Stad shows a big affinity with Dada. Though Joostens was mainly a visual artist he also wrote frequently. His letters to his fellow artist Jos Leonard show a very dada-like spirit, as does his essay Salopes, le quart d’heure de rage ou soleil sans chapeau, published in 1922.
With its “body” of sinuous and twisted lines, topped with shredded bits of rope evoking hair, this assemblage has a particularly female feel. It evokes in an abstract way the grotesque puppets that were so popular in dada-art, like those made by Hannah Hoch, but also the machine-drawings by Francis Picabia. Joostens had a very complex relation to women. They seem to have both fascinated and repulsed him. In 1924 he married Mado Milo in Paris, with Michel Seuphor as one of his witnesses. As it could have been expected, the marriage turned sour very quickly.
But it is with his three-dimensional assemblages of wood, metal, ropes, rubbish, objet-trouvés and disposable material, created in the early twenties that Joostens can be ranked as Belgium most interesting initiator of Dadaism. These are very similar to the Merzbilder that Kurt Schwitters made in Hannover around the same period. As Schwitters, Joostens collected all sort of litter from the streets and the Antwerp quays, nailed and glued them together into the most bizarre objects. Despised vestiges of everyday life were preserved and became art as harmonious compositions with an abstract quality. At the same time sentimental and ironical, they bring to mind the fleetingness of life. The irrational of the assemblages could help to undermine a fossilized bourgeois culture and prepare the road to an artistic renewal.
Paul van Ostaijen, Floris and Oscar Jespers in Floris Jespers’ studio
Pierre-Louis Flouquet 1900 Paris – Brussels 1967 Construction n° 43
Oil on canvas, 1925 Canvas 149.4 x 120 cm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
After visiting a major exhibition of Flouquet works at the Der Sturm gallery in Berlin in November 1925, the famous German art critic Adolf Behne declared : “Whereas in our country everything is painted so mediocrely with the soul, here we find an artist choosing logically and with courage the colors of paintings, which reveal great forms, restfulness and monumentality”. Construction n° 43 dates from the same year and indeed caught the attention by its refined colors and monumentality. It is the most beautiful Flouquet work in the Verbaet collection.
thus a synopsis of a new world, in which well-functioning machines equal progress. A direct link can be made with the writings of Amedée Ozenfant and Charles-Edouard Jeanneret called Le Corbusier. In their Après le Cubisme (1918) and L’esprit nouveau (1920) they advocated a new style in painting : Purism. Fernand Léger’s paintings of the early 1920’s also exemplify the strong influence of these theories. After a long stay in France, Flouquet returned to Brussels in 1922. In the same year he founded, with the brothers Victor and Pierre Bourgeois, Karel Maes and Georges Monnier, the avant-garde magazine 7 arts, spearhead of La Plastique Pure in Europe. By his contribution to the magazine with many articles and art reviews, he then imposed his name within the European abstraction avant-garde. In order to increase its influence on daily life 7 arts mainly aimed at integrating different artistic disciplines, from photography and film up to architecture. In 1927 Flouquet founded with Jean-Jacques Gaillard the group L’Assaut. Several modernist artists joined this group, including Marcel Baugniet, Felix De Boeck, Karel Maes, Hubert Wolfs, and at a later stage, Victor Servranckx and Marthe Donas. L’Assaut exhibited in Brussels and Paris and participated to an impressively large international theatre exhibition which toured the United States and Italy. Prior to that Flouquet had already designed settings for the progressive Théâtre du Marais in Brussels. The last number of 7 arts appeared in 1928. From the 1930’s onwards Flouquet emerged above all as a journalist and as a poet.
Besides to his more typical stretched anthropomorphic silhouettes, Flouquet started painting in 1925 very large canvases of mere geometric compositions. In line with constructivism Flouquet built up his composition by layering colored planes over each other or by sliding them into each other. Henry Van de Velde admired his harmonious interplay of lines, executed “as sounds in a piece of music”. In contrast to the straight lines advocated by De Stijl, the planes of Construction n° 43 are carefully rounded. Typically for Flouquet they have a notable relief, achieved through the addition of, not always realistic, shades and color degradations towards the edges. As a result, his surfaces resemble big metal sheets, welded to each other. The metallic effect is further enhanced by an extremely smooth touch and cold colors. With the addition of some smaller tube-shaped elements, these metal looking plates evoke a world of powerful engines as those that propel transatlantic ships. Construction n° 43 becomes
Frans Masereel 1889 Blankenberg – Avignon 1972 L’Homme sur la ville The Man on the City Pen and ink on paper, 1921 Signed and dated FM / 1921 Sheet 733 x 531 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
A very impressive sheet by Frans Masereel, using one of his favorite iconographies, the man overhanging the buildings and the flock of mortal, like a “King-Kong”. An incredible and consistent emotional wallop. However, the work might be also linked to its return in Paris from 1921, when he painted piling of buildings of Montmartre, and prefigured his master woodcuts series The City in 1925, a stunning depiction of urban Europe between the world wars. Banned by the Nazis, Masereel’s works were championed in Communist countries; however, the artist steered clear of political affiliations. His clarity of vision transcends any propagandist use of the images, which stand as timeless indictments of oppression and injustice. A perfect example how he used Cubist spatial construction to condense the pictorial space of his compositions. Masereel’s designs strongly influenced the work of major American artists, like Lynd Ward and later Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, graphic artists such as Clifford Harper and Eric Drooker.
Leon Devos 1897 – Petit-Enghien – 1974 La Parisienne The Parisian Woman Black chalk and gold on paper, 1926 Signed and dated LEON DEVOS / PARIS - 26 Sheet 366 x 266 mm Provenance C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp
A fascinating portrait of a young lady in Paris in 1926. After the First World War, Leon Devos studied at the Academies of Mons and then Brussels with flying colors. He was in Paris between 1924 and 1926, where he helped his friend Leon Navez to redesign interiors of buildings and even to create news stamps for the French Mail. The present work is dated from this period in Paris. In 1928 he co-founded the group Nervia, a significant movement of Walloon artists, that still remains unfortunately not much studied outside Belgium. Anto-Carte, nowadays the most famous one, but also Louis Buisseret, Leon Eeckman were among the members. The united group aimed to promote a Walloon art, based on a figurative realism that represents humble folk with a sort of exaltation that was often coined as “neo-humanism”. As far as structure is concerned, the works of Nervians are constructed according to geometrical schemes, equilibrated setting together with a fine sense of the outline and ornamental composition. In reaction to the Expressionism, the Nervians prefer singing than shouting. The poetic radiance of his early work is always powerful. The technique is perfectly mastered.
Frits Van den Berghe 1883 – Ghent – 1939 La Source The Source Watercolor, ca. 1925-26 Signed lower right FBerghe Sheet 450 x 600 mm Provenance Walter Schwarzenberg, Brussels; his sale, 1932; Yvan Blomme, Brussels; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Emile Langui, Frits Van den Berghe, Catalogue raisonné de son oeuvre peint, Brussels, Laconti, 1966, no. 190 (ill.) Piet Boyens P. Frits Van den Berghe, Antwerp, SDZ/Pandora, 1999, p. 223, p. 419 (ill.) Exhibition Ghent, Museum of Fine Arts, Retrospectieve Frits Van den Berghe, 1983
The gouaches painted in the middle of the twenties form an important part of Van den Berghe’s oeuvre. The medium was popular among numerous artists in these years. Le Centaure, the gallery in Brussels where Van den Berghe exhibited, frequently showed gouaches by Ossip Zadkine, Raoul Dufy, Jean Metzinger and Roger de la Fresnaye.
The exact theme of the series remains unclear. Looking at the three gouaches together, the scenes could be situated in a surrealistic health resort. The Pedicure shows a man floating upside down, doing his utmost best to attend to the feet of naked woman. Water plays an important role in the two other pieces. In The Bath, men in reservoirs look after a naked woman in a bath, sprinkling water over her. In The Source, also called The Wheel, four people drive a treadmill, pumping up water that is drunk by a kneeling woman. Between the wheel and the pump stands another mysterious woman. In spite of her nakedness she clearly dominates the scene. Cold and inaccessible she doesn’t look human. In all three gouaches the machine age comes to mind, with cogwheels, outlet pipes, complicated installations or metal structures and robots. The reference to major expressionist movies is obvious, in particular Fritz Langs masterly Metropolis. The opening night of Metropolis took place in Berlin in January 1927. But Van den Berghe might have seen stills of the movie, shooting of which took almost a year and a half, through his friend Van Hecke, who was very interested in film and photography and had contacts in Germany.
Van den Berghe produced exquisite gouaches which, though finished artworks themselves, were then worked out in oil paintings. He also painted them as elements of series. The first series, and with its twenty pieces is the most elaborate, was made in 1924 and had the woman figure as subject. It was followed the year after by a series about circus and in 1926 about the country life. The Source, which can be dated to 1925-26 is very similar in atmosphere and inspiration with two other known gouaches : The Bath (Belfius Collection, Brussels) and The Pedicure (private collection). They seem to have been the onset for another series, which was however cut short to only three pieces. All three belonged to the art dealer Walter Schwarzenberg. In the same year, 1926, Schwarzenberg moved Le Centaure to the chic Avenue Louise and established it as a center for the international artistic avant-garde. Van den Berghe’s friend and well known art promoter Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, whose Maison de couture Norine was on the other side of the same avenue, often popped in for advice on the choice of artists and the hanging. From 1927 Schwarzenberg shared the contract that bound Van den Berghe to Van Hecke.
The Source is a tableau full of mysterious and inextricable symbols, erotic and bizarre, inspired by the unconscious. As the twenties progressed the unconscious started to captivate Van den Berghe. “The dream is a reality, just as all other forms of life” he declared in an interview in 1927 “a reality that is as obvious, as precious, and in short as true as is the state of wakefulness. Everyday life all too often destroys every purposeless and unselfish contemplation, in other words what is the right basis of the art itself.” 64
Frits Van den Berghe 1883 – Ghent – 1939 Le Beau Mariage The Nice Wedding Oil on canvas, ca. 1928 Signed lower right FVBerghe Canvas 64 x 48.5 cm Reference Emile Langui, Frits van den Berghe, catalogue raisonné de son œuvre peint, Brussels, Laconti, 1966, no. 268 Provenance Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, Brussels; his sale, 08 May 1933; Alex Salkin, Brussels; Gilbert Périer, Brussels; Christie’s London, 20 Oct. 1988; Private collection; C. & M. Verbaet, Antwerp Literature Variétés, 1928, no. 8, p. 455 Le Centaure, 1929, no. 7, p. 175 Cahiers de Belgique, 1931, no. 2, p. 55 Georges Marlier,”Au Centaure, Frits Van den Berghe”, in Les Beaux-Arts, 13 March 1931 Frits Van den Berghe, Cahier 8, Sélection, Antwerp, p. 97 Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, Frits Van den Berghe, Antwerp, De Sikkel, 1948, frontispiece Paul Haesaerts, Histoire de la peinture moderne en Flandre, Brussel, Arcade, 1959, p. 213 Walther Vanbeselaere, De Vlaamse Schilderkunst van 1850 tot 1950 / Van Leys tot Permeke, Brussels, Arcade, 1959, pl. 88 Emile Langui, Frits Van den Berghe, De mens en zijn werk, Antwerp, Mercatorfonds, 1968, p. 113 Albert Smeets, Van Ensor tot Permeke, Tielt, Lannoo, 1971, p. 197 Piet Boyens, Frits Van den Berghe, Antwerp, SDZ/Pandora, 1999, p. 289, p. 291 and p. 426 Exhibition Brussels, Galerie Giroux, L’art vivant en Belgique, 1931 Antwerp, Feestzaal Meir, Salon van Kunst van Heden, 1940 Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, Hommage à Gustave De Smet, Frits Van den Berghe, Fernand Schirren et Hippolyte Dhaeye, 1945 Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Zeven Belgische schilders, 1945 Paris, Galerie du Bac, Les expressionnistes, 1946 Venice, XXIVe Esposizione Internazionale Biennale d’Arte, 1948 Ghent, Koninklijke Kunst en Letterkring, Frits Van den Berghe, 1948 Ostend, Kursaal, De vrouw in de kunst, 1952 Knokke, Casino, G. De Smet en F. Van den Berghe, 1952 Verviers, Société royale des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Frits Van den Berghe, 1952 Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, Expressionnisme, 1952 Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Frits Van den Berghe, 1957 Ostend, Museum of Fine Arts, Het Vlaams Expressionisme, 1961 Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, Frits Van den Berghe, 1962 Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Belgische Malerei seit 1900, 1962 Hamburg, Kunsthaus, Frits Van den Berghe, 1969 Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, L’art flamand d’Ensor à Permeke, 1970 Sint Joost ten Noode, Hotel Charlier, Frits Van den Berghe, 1970 London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ensor to Permeke, Nine Flemish painters, 1971
Le Beau Mariage is one of the most important works of the remarkable change that occurred in 1928 in the oeuvre of Frits van den Berghe. He abandoned the beautiful outlining of his expressionist period for more curious works in which he explored the possibilities of paint as a material. He described his exploration in a letter to his friend André de Ridder : “I put layers of paint next to each other. If the selection, which is doubtlessly determined by an untraceable impulse, provides an already familiar or a new harmony, it provides the nucleus of something that is unknown, even to myself. This core can then further develop into widely divergent paintings. Everything depends on what secret stirrings of the soul are awakened deep in ourselves.”
resembles in a way to the bride in Ernst La Mariée en dentelles (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen), which also hung in the apartment of the Van Hecke’s. There is already a notable distance between her and her husband, a much taller, but weak and hesitating figure in a suit. The two look isolated with not even a feeling of sympathy or a quiet understanding between them. Immediately behind the groom a third, even hazier figure looms up. Is it his own shadow or a ghost that whispers him something in the ear? The existential fear and the dark layers of the human should eventually escape from any attempt of cover-up. Definitively a master work for the artist and in the Verbeat collection.
Originally, the present work, together with a version in oil on canvas, belonged to the art dealer Paul-Gustave Van Hecke. In 1927, Van Hecke opened a new gallery in Brussels, L’époque, where paintings by Belgian artists hung next to works by Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Ossip Zadkine, Giorgio De Chirico and Vasilly Kandinsky. He was one of the first promoters of René Magritte, who also designed advertising for the haute couture house that Van Hecke ran with his vivacious wife Norine, known as “the Chanel of the North.” He became more and more interested in the surrealist movement and started in May 1928 a new magazine, Variétés, which became a platform for the Belgian and international avant-garde. Its noteworthy layout, with special attention to photography, showed his sympathy for Surrealism. It was at Van Hecke’s gallery that Van den Berghe discovered the work of Max Ernst whose frottage technique intrigued him. It was not the painter anymore who determined how his work should look, nor even the subject of it. This would appear gradually during the rubbing or would emerge from the mixture of paints on the paper or the canvas. Out of the amorphousness, figures would loom up. The power of the unconscious would determine the shape. Only after this first appearance, the painter could adapt it and give it its final form. The cynical title of this work does not bode well. Maybe it reflected Van den Berghe own unhappy marriage. Three blurred, moldy figures stand out theatrically against a red background. The bride on the left is veiled. She is angular and self-assured. Her dress has something like a cuirass. She
Index of artist names Baes, Firmin Devos, Leon Doudelet, Charles Ensor, James Finch, Willy Flouquet, Pierre-Louis Leon Frédéric, Jespers, Floris Jespers, Oscar Joostens, Paul Maes, Karel Masereel, Frans Mellery, Xavier Minne, George Montald, Constant Permeke, Constant Rops, Felicien Spilliaert, Leon Van de Velde, Henri Van den Berghe, Frits
14 24 8, 9 3, 6 4 22 7 16, 17 20 15, 21 19 23 2 10 11 18 1 12, 13 5 25, 26
Front cover Leon Frédéric, The three Sisters, cat. 7 (detail)
Back cover James Ensor, The red Apples, cat. 3 (detail)
Catalogue entries Eric Gillis Peter Pauwels Pascal de Sadeleer Patrick Florizoone
Translation/Editing Jean-Marie Gillis Ingrid Pavilanis
Design Arthur Calame, Brussels Printed by Impressor Pauwels Sprl., in Brussels in December 2014
Photographs L’Atelier de l’Imagier, Brussels Kim Rothuys, Antwerp Photogravure Olivier Dengis, Mistral Bvba
Next page Karel Maes, 6 Linos, cat. 19 (detail) Special thanks (by alphabetical order) to Antoine Bechet, Laurence Bombaert, Caroline Corrigan, Reginald De Coster, Virginie Devillez, Jérôme Garmier, Vincent Guerre, Michel Guillanton, Hannelore Mattheus, Marie-Astrid Neulens, Mathieu Neouze, Ohana Nkulufa, Valérie Quelen, Loïc Ritter, Inga Rossi-Schrimpf, Fabrice van de Kerckhove, Maurice Verbaet, and Begga Vermaelen. @Eric Gillis Fine Art – December 2014
Published on Dec 19, 2014