Théo van Rysselberghe
1862-1926 | BelgianPortrait of Laure Flé
Signed with the artist’s monogram “VR”; Inscribed and dated “St Clair Nov. 1913” (lower left)
Oil on board mounted on panel
This portrait is an extraordinary Neo-Impressionist composition by the Belgian painter Théo van Rysselberghe. It is an excellent representation of the artist’s mature output, whose rebellion against the constraining academic standards at the turn of the 20th century proved crucial to the history of European art. The work, depicting his neighbor and close friend, Laure Flé, is a triumph in every sense: the brilliance of the palette, the mastery of technique and the intimacy of the subject matter.
Laure Flé, seen sitting in a well-appointed interior with her beloved spaniel, was an accomplished pianist and singer and the wife of composer Georges Flé. This work was completed in November of 1913 at Flé‘s request one year before she died. It was painted in Saint-Clair on the French Riviera where both the Flés and van Rysselberghe owned homes. During the period of this work’s creation, van Rysselberghe and his wife, Maria, played an active role in caring for Flé as her health declined. The sitter’s gaze is far off, melancholic and knowing, conveyed with sensitivity by her friend and caregiver. Van Rysselberghe’s colleague Maurice Denis once wrote of the artist’s approach to his sitters: “He spoke about volumes, color and composition, but that was in order to conceal his fascination for personality through his care to depict the character and the psychology correctly.”
Théo van Rysselberghe began his artistic studies at the Academy of Ghent, moving on to attend the Academy of Brussels in 1880 under the direction of Jean-Francois Portaels. His showings at the Salons of Ghent and Brussels were mainly showcases of his realist works, largely inspired by the Belgian tradition. His attention soon shifted to the works of the Impressionists, and he co-founded the pivotal Belgian artistic circle Les XX, which rebelled against what they felt to be “outdated” academic standards. After attending the eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886, however, van Rysselberghe became completely enamored with Neo-Impressionism, namely Pointillism. But by the 1910s, when this work was painted, van Rysselberghe had largely abandoned Pointillism, focusing instead on a broader application of paint while still remaining true to his interest in brilliant color and light.
Van Rysselberghe was a master of capturing the likeness of his subjects while also maintaining the remarkable color and highly effective techniques of Pointillism. Here, he juxtaposes the divisionist brushwork that defined his earlier career with a more relaxed, liberal approach. The background, especially the blue and white vase, is completed with short strokes of pigment, while the sitter’s dress is executed in wide swaths of color. The composition’s unconventional cropping lends it a freshness and modernity, as does its bold, saturated color palette.
Today, the artist’s works can be found in all of the important museum collections of the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, London’s National Gallery and many others
. Van Rysselberghe depicted his friend Laure Flé on multiple occasions, including a strikingly similar composition exhibited in the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art in Luxembourg as part of a retrospective on the artist. That work also appears in Théo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926): Catalogue Raisonné
by R. Feltkamp, p. 148 and 406.
Board: 25 1/2" high x 23" wide
Frame: 35" high x 31" wide
Hugo Perls, New York
Private collection, 1959
By descent in the family