Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Edmond Verstraeten

Although Verstraeten never painted water lilies, Monet was not the only Impressionist to have his own garden.
When we think of a particular painting style or movement, we naturally bring to mind the intrepid pioneers who braved the ridicule, poverty, and despair of going out on a limb in becoming the first to break down the walls of the past in order to inject new life into whatever novel approach they may pursued. I'm thinking of Impressionism in this case, though much the same scenarios can be found in many other art eras, or quite apart from the arts, in science, philosophy, music, and literature as well. In the case of Impressionism we first think of Monet, then Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Guillaumin, and Bazille. They made up the first generation. Unfortunately, though they contributed much to the movement, we seldom consider those of the second generation. Notice, they were all French.

Verstraeten's brand of Impressionism bordered very closely to what we might call Abstract Impressionism.
The second generation included painters both unknown and well-known painters such as Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Edmund C Tarbell, Frank Benson, and Edmond Verstraeten. There's not a Frenchman amongst the lot of them; and in fact, they were all Americans, except for Verstraeten. He was Belgian. Obviously, some embraced Impressionism more avidly than others, while some made greater lasting contributions to the style than others. Edmond Verstraeten was one of the latter. Probably, the reason the name is as unfamiliar as his art has to do with the fact that he was Belgian, painting around the turn of the century right next door to France, often in a manner so Impressionistic as to make Monet and others of the first generation seem downright academic.
One might be tempted to say Verstraeten looked a lot
like Santa Claus the day after Christmas; but in fact, he
also bore a strong resemblance to Claude Monet.
Edmond Paul Marie Verstraeten was born in 1870 in Waasmunster, Belgium (about halfway between Ghent and Antwerp). in 1896 he married Augusta Reynaert. They had ten children. Edmond Verstraeten was a Luminist and pointillist painter of portraits and still lifes, but specialized in landscapes. Although he was a student of Jean Coosemans and received advice from Franz Courtens and Jean Rosseels, he was mostly a self-taught artist. He worked in Tervuren and Genk from 1890 until 1894, but mostly in the area of the Durme near Waasmunster. Verstraeten’s first important exhibition in 1894 was very successful. He was invited to the exhibitions of 1904 and 1911 by the avant-garde group "La Libre Esthétique" (Free Aesthetics). He travelled to Russia in 1906 where he met with the famous writer Léon Tolstoy. Verstraeten was actually a Realist painter who evolved, under the influence of his artistic friend, Emile Claus, toward Impressionism a more personal and powerful Luminist use of color.
Verstraeten seems influenced by the thoroughly British clouds of John Constable seasoned by a bit of Turner, van Gogh, and Monet.
Verstraeten never attended any academy; he wanted to stay himself; he wanted to be free. However, other sources insist that the painter did, from time to time, partake of Academic instruction, though he was nothing in the way of a prodigy. His first painting was taken to the Academy of Antwerp. It was badly painted, with a poor quality oil, and was termed a failure. For the most part, Edmond Verstraeten did not follow the same path as his classmates. He wanted to follow his own path, do his own ideas, to remain free in making his own choices. It was a determined attitude that marked most of his life.
Like Monet, Verstraeten often
Probably around 1900, Verstraeten had a house in the countryside (the Dommel) built on a hill in an impressive park of several hectares, where there were trees of all kinds. The painter himself has talked a lot about his house. He describes it: "My house is very high, close to the sky, far from cities." Built of red brick in a Flemish style, (above) the house has a homey look, though it may not be much of an architectural masterpiece.
The title is unknown but German and Austrian influences are plainly evident.
The freedom Verstraeten sought allowed him to better confront the greatest painters in the world. In 1906 he visited the great museums of Russia via Germany and Austria. On another trip Verstraeten also visited Italy, returning through Vienna and Germany. A third time, accompanied by Jozef Muls, he visited the museums of Germany again. He loved the art of the Italians very much. He noted that the "...Germans were a bit heavy in painting, but he loved them anyway."

The Despairs of Peacocks in the Snow, Edmond Verstraeten
In 1907,  Verstraeten made a public presentation in the village hall of Brussels. He displayed for the first time The Despairs of Peacocks (above). The painting is now on display at the town hall of ST NIKLAAS. The municipality of St. Nicklass asked for a credit to buy the painting. A loan of 5000 francs was granted. However, while waiting to be able to pay the balance on the painting, its value had reached 10,000 francs.

Verstraeten paints "effets de la neige", a favorite of Monet also.
A year later, along with several other Belgian painters such as Victor Gilsoul and Léon FREDERIC, went to the exhibition of the year of the "National Society of Fine Arts" of Paris. Verstraeten received the title of "Winner of the Show." Like The Despairs of Peacocks, the snowy painting winning first prize was one of several grouped as "Symphony of (or in) Snow." There's some conjecture as to which one actually bears the title.

During the latter years of his life, Verstraeten began posing family members in his garden.
Edmond Verstraeten will forever preserve the image of the man of nature. He wanted to know how the wind could behave in nature. He was very fond of sunlight. The painter kept with him a business card. He placed it in plain view. On a map, he wrote that he was sad not to have been able to shake his hand after visiting his magnificent exhibition. That man was Claude Monet. Verstraeten wrote as he painted. He wrote a novel under the title The Dark Days of Ida. He showed his novel to Professor Franz de Backer in 1914. From de Backer came the enthusiastic reply: "I see you [have] a great future; I believe you will soon publish and become famous." Verstraeten died in 1956 at the age of eighty-six. His novel was never published.

Nice Nightlights, Edmond Verstraeten.
(That's "Nice" as in the city on the
French Riviera.)


No comments:

Post a Comment