By the end of the 1880s, the Belgian painter Évariste Carpentier (1845–1922) was painting Naturalist works inspired by Jules Bastien-Lepage, showing rural deprivation.
During the 1890s, with Naturalism more generally on the wane, Carpentier’s themes and style started to become more Impressionist and idyllic. The country people shown in After Work from about 1890 are sat around as the sun sinks slowly to the horizon.
The Turnip Washer from 1890 is among the last of his thoroughly Naturalist paintings. Alongside the farmyard birds, two figures are busy washing piles of turnips in a small and dirty pond. This won Carpentier a medal when it was exhibited in Paris.
Intimate Conversation from about 1892 is another stock Naturalist theme, of a young couple talking idly outdoors in the sun. Carpentier avoids the controversial issues which marred Bastien-Lepage’s earlier painting, and puts a prominent tear in the young woman’s apron to emphasise their poverty. This also marked the start of increasing sentimentality in his paintings.
Carpentier’s Impressionist Wild Friend from about 1893-95 is more painterly, higher in chroma, and has lost the objectivity of his earlier Naturalist paintings. Given the dense marks across the meadow, this seems unlikely to have been painted in a single session in front of the motif.
On Holiday is thought to have been painted between about 1890-95, when Carpentier himself had a young family, and may be a portrait of his wife and children dressed up for an outing to one of the beaches on the Channel or North Sea coasts.
I similarly suspect that his model for Siesta from about 1897 may be his wife Jeanne. This is a composition which was popular with Impressionists and other painters in the late nineteenth century: a woman seated in the sunshine overlooking a backdrop of a town, which may be Liège, perhaps, to which he and his family moved that year.
His undated view of an old woman Feeding the Chickens in her yard appears to have been painted at around this time.
Child Playing is claimed to have been completed before 1900, and shows a young girl, possibly one of his own daughters, playing with an improvised sailing boat made from a wooden clog.
In 1897, Carpentier was appointed professor of painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège. There, he introduced many students to Impressionism and Luminism.
In about 1900, Carpentier painted a series of works showing churches and related buildings in Liège, including this view of the Place Saint-Jacques in Liège. Six of these are now in the Prince-Bishops’ Palace of Liège, which was itself one of his subjects.
First Beautiful Days from about 1900-03 is probably another Impressionist view of his wife seated with the city of Liège as the backdrop.
In 1904, Carpentier became director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège, a post from which he retired fifteen years later.
These last four paintings are all undated, but were most probably completed in the early years of the twentieth century, judging by their loose facture and Impressionist style.
Sunset at Ostende shows the seafront of this Belgian resort at the southern end of the North Sea, looking towards the setting sun to the west.
Carpentier painted several works showing girls and young women in gardens, including this one of a Girl and her Greyhound in the Garden.
Ladies Taking Tea shows a group of young women, possibly his daughters, taking tea on a small terrace in a town.
Children Asleep is more sentimental again, with two young children asleep by a hedge as their parents are cutting hay in the field.
Finally, De Kempen in August was painted in a heathland and wetland area on the border betweem the Netherlands and Belgium, to the east of Antwerp. It’s known as Campine in French, or De Kempen in Dutch, and lies to the east of Antwerp. Among the cattle and people is a woman artist, who has set up her easel to paint under a small white parasol.
Carpentier’s painting productivity declined after his retirement in 1919, and he died in 1922 after a long illness. He had been prolific, successful, and had been a dedicated teacher. However, with the changing tides of art in the early twentieth century, his work was quickly forgotten until interest in it revived in the later years of the century.