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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Georges Lemmen

The Beach at Heist, 1891-92, George Lemmen--considered is best work.                  
George Lemmen, Self-portrait, 1884
Have you ever doubted your talented on occasions, perhaps wondering if you really had any, or if it was mostly in your own mind rather than on canvas (or some other display medium)? I think it may go without saying that all of us have had those thoughts upon occasions. Usually they are brief, perhaps only momentary, but few artists are so completely confident in their abilities to have avoided them altogether. The Belgian painter, Georges Lemmen, had such doubts for virtually his entire life. Given the robust egos of most artists, that's rare, not to mention downright unhealthy psychologically. Lemmen was a Post-impressionist from the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. Usually in researching painters such as Lemmen, there is a wealth of information, sometimes verging upon overkill, to the point we know the color of the artist's pink pajamas. That's not so with Lemmen. I'm not sure why that is, maybe art critics and historians tend to agree with the artist's modest appraisal of his own talent. I don't.

The Two Sisters, 1894, Georges Lemmen.
Little Pierre, 1904, Georges Lemmen
Georges Lemmen was born in 1865 in Schaarbeek, Belgium (just outside Brussels). His father was an architect who encouraged his son in studying the arts. Although young Georges began studying at the school of drawing at Sint Joost-ten-Noode, around the age of ten, it wasn't long before he dropped out (perhaps too much too soon). After what may have been some turbulent teens, given what amounted to a poor self-image. Around the age of twenty, Lemmen once more turned to art, painting and etching this time. He especially admired the work of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. Soon he was displaying his work in several different galleries in Brussels. How much success he had is uncertain, but one so young, lacking experience, not to mention formal academic training, in such a competitive art market, the outlook couldn't have been very promising.

View of the Thames, 1892, Georges Lemmen, painted during a period of time in England.
Flowers and Apples, Georges Lemmen
Around 1888, Lemmen joined a rebellious group of Brussels artists calling themselves Les XX (sometimes referred to as Les Vingt--the twenty, in either case). There he met Théo van Rysselberghe, which led him to a move towards Neo-Impressionism, particularly Pointillism (today it's often called Divisionism and we classify it as Post-impressionism but that term didn't come until much later). Incidentally, I've never quite understood why Pointillism is always categorized with Post-impressionism other than chronology. In style and color theory it's so closely in line with Impressionism (sort of a refinement, so to speak) as to be more of an offshoot rather than part of a whole different period in art. In any case, Lemmen, without ever having even so much as having met a major figure in the movement, adopted the style wholeheartedly. His work from this period, despite his personal doubts, is exceptional, on a par with anything along the same line happening in Paris at the time.

Factories on the Thames, ca. 1894, Georges Lemmen--even factories can be beautiful.
Lemmen's 1910 self-portrait. Compare it
to the 1884 image (top right). Twenty-six
years takes its toll.
Then, in 1891, Georges Seurat died. Seurat was such a major figure in the Neo-impressionist movement that the loosely disorganized group never quite recovered. Although Henri-Edmond Cross, Paul Signac, and a few others carried on for a time, by 1895 the style, methods, and color theories had become passé. It was bound to happen sooner or later, Pointillism being so right-brained, scientific, not to mention time-consuming; it had little chance of becoming mainstream. Lemmen veered away from the strict technical discipline of Pointillism toward a more Impressionistic style of painting. He was also involved in the early days of graphic design or what was then called "commercial" art--posters and the like. His palette and style became similar to the Nabis painters in Paris about the same time. And, after about 1910, Lemmen tended to withdraw into himself, his lingering doubts as to his own self-worth becoming more and more prevalent. His subject matter turned to Impressionistic portraits of his family and friends. He experimented with other media, particularly pastels, and gouache. His still-lifes (above, right) reflected his Nabis influences. Georges Lemmen died in 1916 at the age of fifty-one, still questioning his talent as an artist despite the fact that his first (and only) one-man show in Brussels in 1913 had been a great success.

A Snowy Evening (sometimes called Symphony in Violet), 1910, Georges Lemmen


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