In the first of these two articles looking briefly at the career and paintings of Théo van Rysselberghe (1862–1926), I covered the development of his mature Divisionist style from initial Realism through Impressionism. During the early years of the twentieth century he moved steadily away, towards what is sometimes referred to as Luminism-Fauvism.
Ha also turned more to sculpture, while his paintings more commonly featured nudes, often in outdoor scenes set on the coast of the South of France. He finally abandoned any trace of Divisionism, instead concentrating on light and colour. Some of these works appear influenced by Vincent van Gogh, others use the startlingly intense colours associated with the Fauves. In 1911 he retired to Saint-Clair, on the Côte d’Azur, at the eastern end of the coast of the South of France.
Pines at Pointe Layet (1912) progressed his earlier motifs of pines and the sea, but here on a steep cliff and without beach or bathers. His colours are more sombre again, and his brushstrokes worked in to model texture in the trunks.
He had first visited Spain in 1881 or 82, then travelled to Andalucia in company with John Singer Sargent in the Spring of 1884. He doesn’t appear to have painted the Alhambra until his Fountain at the Generalife in Granada of 1913, in this late high-chroma style.
Painted half-way through the First World War, Sunset (1916) was a further progression, with its paint applied in coarse marks, and its cliff has become explicitly vertiginous.
Pine by the Mediterranean Sea (1916) is altogether brighter, lighter, and less impending, with similar textures in the bark and foliage as in Pines at Pointe Layet (1912).
At the end of the war, van Rysselberghe’s colours became as brash as those of the Fauves. In Almond Trees in Blossom (Morning) from 1918, the more delicate pinks of the flowers pale in comparison with his full reds and blues, even down to the blue horse pulling the plough.
He eased his chroma a little in Large Tree near the Sea (1919), and used less regular marks for its fields and ground vegetation.
In 1919 his work was recognised by the Belgian state, in his appointment as Commander of the Order of Léopold. He had a major solo exhibition at Galerie Giroux in 1922, and was subsequently nominated to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, and the Royal Academy of Belgium.
Bathers from about 1920 is reminiscent of his Glowing Hour (Provence) (1897), but more modest in size and ambition.
Noon Landscape from about 1921 is more conventionally realist, with smoother bark and leaves stroked in individually.
The Bay of St Clair (1923) shows this classic view of the Mediterranean coast near Le Lavandou.
Les Fonds de Saint-Clair (1924) looks likely to have been painted in a single plein air session, with areas where the application of paint has been so light that the canvas texture shows through.
Probably his final variation on his pines-beach-bathers motifs, Bathers under the Pines by the Sea (1926) uses high chroma colours in its shadows, with near-primary red marking the highlights on the rough bark of the pine trunks, ground, and flesh, and livid green over much of the rest of the flesh. Those contrastingly coloured dots of his earlier Divisionism have ruptured and released their intensity over larger areas.
Théo van Rysselberghe died at the end of 1926.
Since then his work has featured in only two major exhibitions: his first official retrospective and centenary in Ghent, in 1962, and a second in Brussels and the Hague in 2006. Yet he was one of those central to Neo-Impressionism, and one of its most prolific and enduring devotees. At the start of the new century he played a formative role in the development of modernism in the Midi. With so many of his best paintings now in private collections, it’s hard to see that changing, and his work receiving the recognition that it so richly deserves.
Holberton P ed (2006) Théo van Rysselberghe, Mercatorfonds, Centre for Fine Arts and Belgian Art Research Institute. ISBN 978 9 057 79080 5.