Monday, November 16, 2009

Life and light

The Belgian response to Impressionism was a complex and local one. The Belgian Impressionists are often called Luminists, and the founder of Luminism was Émile Claus (1849-1924). His work combines elements of Impressionism, Symbolism, and Intimisme. Born in Sint-Eloois-Vijve, Émile Claus studied at the Antwerp Academy and then headed for Paris, where he became a close friend of Henri Le Sidaner. Under the influence of Le Sidaner and of Claude Monet, Claus shrugged off the brown tones of his early work for a style filled with light, giving rise to the term Luminism being used for the Belgian Impressionists as for the American ones. Claus repaid some of the debt of the Impressionists and Symbolists to Japanese art by teaching two of Japan's finest modern artists, Torajiro Kojima and Kijiro Ota. Émile Claus uttered some of the best last words of any artist, very much in keeping with the name he chose for the Luminist group he started in 1904, Vie et Lumière (Life and Light). They were: “Bloemen, bloemen, bloemen …” (Flowers, flowers, flowers).

Émile Claus, Midi
Lithograph, 1910

Émile Claus, Pâques
Lithograph, 1910

During WWI, Émile Claus took refuge in London, where he worked alongside his friend Albert Baertsoen in the studio of John Singer Sargent. Baertsoen (1866-1922), a painter and etcher of city scenes, was born and died in Ghent. He studied at the Ghent Academy of Art under Jean Delvin. After exhibiting at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1887, Albert Baertsoen moved to Paris. Baertsoen furthered his studies in the atelier of Alfred Roll, where he became friends with the artists Edmond Aman-Jean and Charles Cottet. It was under their influence that Albert Baertsoen freed himself from the strict realism of the Termonde School, and re-oriented his art towards Impressionism. There was a retrospective of the art of Albert Baertsoen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Ghent in 1972-1973.

Albert Baertsoen, La grand’rue, le matin
Etching, 1898

Albert Baertsoen, Reflets
Etching, 1909

Albert Baertsoen, Un canal à Gand
Etching, 1919


Jane said...

Baertsoen is an under appreciated artist, but finding his work seems not that easy, so thank you. I've been thinking about Belgian painters as Divisionists and have a folder full of images, but this is another angle.

Neil said...

I look forward very much to your take on this time and place in art, Jane. I'm ambivalent about "isms", as I'm sure you are too. We need categories to divide one thing from another, but art is so amorphous and all-embracing, once you start trying to imprison an artist, or a group of friends, or a formal school, into one ism or another, they always break out (sometimes, as with Surrealism, with bitter consequences). That's what I love about "life and light"; it's something you can't argue with, or fall out about. Whereas if you claim to be a Luminist, and then start painting gloomy pictures, all your fellow Luminists can start accusing you of being a heretic and traitor, rather than someone who has started seeing light in dark places.

Roxana said...

how wonderful the last two of them, i can't get enough of that subtle light and shadow play, slowly dissolving, ever-changing gaze.
and i totally agree with your opinion about "ism"-s, especially during this period for which Germans have a special name: art and literature of the Jahrhundertwende (turn of the century), it is impossible to differenciate among the many different tendencies which can be simultanously present at the same poet/artist. For example Rilke, just one of them...

Neil said...

You put it beautifully, Roxana, as always.