Rik Wouters was a pioneer of modern art. He trained as a sculptor but soon turned to painting and drawing. Wouters’ work evolved from Impressionism to a type of Fauvism, the latter of which is characterised by intense colours, highly simplified forms and a supple, instinctive touch.
Prior to the First World War, Rik Wouters’ circle of friends included Edgard Tytgat and Jean Brusselmans. Although initially influenced by his work, they developed their own visual language from the 1920s onwards.
Edgard Tytgat’s work acquired a distinctly linear and naive character. He drew inspiration from daily life, the world of circuses and fairs, folklore and erotically tinged oriental fairy tales, which he mingled with bizarre fantasies.
Averse to any form of artistic movement, Jean Brusselmans created an entirely idiosyncratic oeuvre. He developed a synthesised style in which all forms are simplified. His compositions are balanced and well-considered. Throughout his lifetime, he remained faithful to a small number of themes: landscapes, seascapes, still lifes and portraits.
Tytgat’s idiosyncratic form of Expressionism often seems naive and tinged with eroticism. As exemplified by this bizarre scene, which was inspired by the fairy tales in One Thousand and One Nights. We read ‘Amour et bonté’ (‘Love and goodness’) on the fluttering banderole. This is undoubtedly ironic, because we see a rider with a scimitar, a black assistant and two chained slaves, all watched by a terrified woman. As with a dream, the scene is wholly open to interpretation.
Edgard Tytgat, a native of Brussels, spent his childhood in Bruges. As an artist, he created his own world with scenes from everyday life, a realm of circuses and fairgrounds, folklore, fairy tales... His style of Expressionism is particularly idiosyncratic, with a seemingly naïve quality. There is often an erotic undertone to his work.
The bizarre scene that we see before us is inspired by the Oriental fairy tales in One Thousand and One Nights. ‘Amour et bonté’ proclaims the fluttering banderol, ‘Love and Goodness’. This must surely be ironic. For we see a rider with a scimitar, a chained and naked slave, and a black helper. A partially bundled up and handcuffed woman can be seen on the ground. While to the right, another woman covers her ears as the situation unfolds. A bedroom scene is depicted in a tent-like construction towards the left, in the background. Is this a dream belonging to one of the figures?
Bizarre, erotic, imaginative, and an apparently naïve style: these words can be applied to many of Tytgat’s works.
In this Fauvist portrait, Rik Wouters applied intense colours with quick brushstrokes. He left parts of the canvas unpainted as a way of capturing the light. Gabriëlle Giroux and her husband Georges owned a fashion boutique and a gallery in Brussels. As admirers of Wouters’ oeuvre, they offered him a contract with monthly pay and organised a solo exhibition of his work in 1914.
Nothing could give us greater pleasure than to introduce you to Mrs Gabriëlle Giroux, the wife of Georges Giroux. This French couple ran a fashion house and gallery in Brussels and were great admirers of the sculptor and painter Rik Wouters, who was born in Mechelen and lived in Brussels. In 1912, the year in which this portrait was painted, they offered Wouters a contract and a monthly salary. This would at last provide the 30-year-old artist with a degree of financial security. At the time, this was an unprecedented gesture in the Belgian art world.
Here, as in most of the other works in his oeuvre, Wouters strives to capture the light on his canvas: he does this by using shimmering, intense and contrasting colours. By working in quick, nervous brushstrokes. By mixing the oil paint with turpentine. And also, by leaving parts of the canvas unpainted. This was a technique that Wouters borrowed from Cézanne, whose works he had seen in Paris. Portrait of Mrs Giroux is a particularly beautiful example of Wouters’ Fauvist art.
In 1914, the Giroux’ organised a solo exhibition of Rik Wouters’ work. It was a huge success. Later that year, the First World War erupted. Rik Wouters died of cancer in Amsterdam just two years later. He was thirty-three years old.
Although Wouters was a self-taught painter, he was an academically trained sculptor. This larger than life-size work represents Nel, his wife and lifelong muse. She is portrayed in her everyday clothes and with crossed arms. The original plaster model, from which twelve bronze versions of this sculpture were cast after Wouters’ death, is preserved in Brussels.
Dressed in a striking black and white checked dress, the painter’s wife is reading within a homely interior. Brusselmans was often inspired by his immediate surroundings and certain objects appear repeatedly in his work: the conch shell, the bust and a copy of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. He arranges surfaces, lines, shapes, structures, outlines and colours into a balanced whole.
We are looking at a large-scale still life, but a human figure painted in this genre is wholly unexpected. Seated here, reading a book in a domestic interior, is Marie-Léonie Frisch, the wife of the painter Jean Brusselmans. She is wearing a striking black-and-white checked dress.
Jean Brusselmans was often inspired by his immediate surroundings, as is the case here. Many of the objects seen in this painting crop up elsewhere in his work, including the shell horn on the table and the bust, a copy of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. His wife, Marie, is also becoming an object, so to speak.
Composition is vital to the art of still life painting. As demonstrated by this canvas. Everything is carefully arranged so as to create a balanced whole. The work almost looks schematic. Planes, lines, shapes, structures, schemes and colours: this is what interests Brusselmans. Emotions, less so. Yet for many of his contemporaries who were working in the Expressionist style, painting was all about emotion. This is why the idiosyncratic Brusselmans preferred not to be part of the Expressionist movement.
The Brusselmans family often lived in poverty. Jean Brusselmans did not sell many paintings. the Kortrijk industrialist, Tony Herbert, was one of the very few people to collect his work. It is from Herbert’s collection that the museum acquired many of the masterpieces in the galleries dedicated to Flemish Expressionism.
More information about the formation of our 20th-century art collection can be found by pressing the green button. This is the same commentary that was offered earlier.