Saturday, September 1, 2012

Van Rijsselberghe, Théo

Canal dans les Flandres (Canal in Flanders)
oil on canvas
152.4 x 203.2 cm
private collection

Théo van Rysselberghe (1862 - 1926) was a Belgian neo-impressionist painter, designer and sculptor, who played a pivotal role in the European art scene at the turn of the century. Born in Ghent to a French-speaking bourgeois family, he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Barely 18 years old, he already participated at the Salon of Ghent, showing portrait paintings. He met several painters from the Parisian scene such as Sisley, Signac, Degas and especially Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He appreciated especially the talent of Toulouse-Lautrec.

He was one of the prominent co-founders of the Belgian artistic circle Les XX. This was a circle of young radical artists. They rebelled against the outmoded academism of that time and the prevailing artistic standards. Among the most notable members were James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff, Auguste Rodin and Paul Signac. He saw the works of the impressionists Monet and Auguste Renoir at the show of Les XX. He was deeply impressed. He experimented with this technique. This impressionist influence became prominent in his paintings. Then, he discovered the pointillist technique when he saw Georges Seurat's La Grande Jatte at the eighth impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1886. This shook him up completely. He imported this style to Belgium.  He abandoned realism and became an adept of pointillism. In the final years of the 1890s, he had reached the climax of his Neo-impressionist technique. Slowly he abandoned the use of dots in his portraits and landscapes and began applying somewhat broader strokes. After 1910 he abandoned his pointillist technique completely. His strokes had become longer and he used more often vivid colors and more intense contrasts, or softened hues. He had become a master in applying light and heat in his paintings.

In 1911, he retired to the Côte d'Azur and became more and more detached from the Brussels art scene. Here he continued painting, mostly landscapes of the Mediterranean coast, portraits of his wife and daughter, and of his brother. At the end of his life, he also turned to portrait sculpture. He died in Saint-Clair on 14 December 1926 and was buried in the cemetery of Lavandou. Much of the works of Van Rysselberghe still remain in private collections.

Van Rysselberghe made the mistake of his life: he didn't recognize the talent of the young Pablo Picasso who was in his Blue Period at that time. He found his works "ugly and uninteresting".