Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alfred Verwee

Young bulls at a watering place
second half of the 19th century
oil on canvas
size unknown
private collection

Alfred Jacques Verwee (1838-1895), born in the Belgian village of Sint-Joost-ten-Nodewas, is a Belgian painter known for his depictions of animals, landscapes and seascapes. He is generally considered to be Belgium's first great animal painter.

He was originally trained to be a surveyor, but could not complete his engineering studies due to family financial difficulties. Painting had long been a hobby so, with the support of his father, a romantic painter of winter landscapes, he began to pursue that as a career. He enrolled at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts. His first exhibition was in 1857, but he didn't achieve true recognition until 1863, when he had a show at the Brussels Salon, where he was awarded a gold medal. He won another gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1864. On the advice of professional acquaintances, he settled in Paris and made contact with painters of the Barbizon school. This didn't lead to the expected financial success, however, and he returned to Brussels a year later. Then, from 1867 to 1868, he lived in London but, again, commercial success was unobtainable and he returned home broke.

He attempted to create a grand vision of the Flemish countryside. Around 1880, he became fascinated with the area surrounding Knokke, and an informal artists' colony slowly took root there. By 1887, he saw that Knokke could become a major tourist attraction, so he joined with two local businessmen to purchase a large tract of dunes and polders to subdivide for property developers. In 1888, he built a villa, the "Fleur des Dunes" and, in 1891, joined with his friend to create "Knokke-Attractions", a promotional firm. His health began to deteriorate in 1892. First, he suffered from rheumatism, then was diagnosed with throat cancer. In 1895, he travelled to Southern France, Algeria and Egypt in hopes of finding a warm, dry climate that would improve his health. A few weeks before his death, his friends brought him back to Knokke and he died at his home.