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Théo van Rysselberghe
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Saint-Clair, Le Lavandou, France
A leading Neo-Impressionist artist, Théo van Rysselberghe was part of Belgium’s avant-garde at the end of the 19th century and continued his career in France during the first decades of the 20th century. First known as a painter, he expanded his interests to include book design and illustration, printmaking, poster design and sculpting. Born in 1862 to an affluent family in Ghent, he received his first artistic training there at the Academy of Fine Arts under Theodore Joseph Canneel (1817-1892). Van Rysselberghe then enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels in 1880, studying under Jean François Portaels (1818-1895) and Léon Herbo (1850-1907). He exhibited at the Ghent Salon in 1880 and the Brussels Salon in 1881. Awarded a traveling fellowship, van Rysselberghe traveled to Spain and Morocco during late 1882 and early 1883. He found Morocco particularly interesting, and exhibited scenes from his trip there in Brussels at an exhibition sponsored by the artists’ society L’Essor in 1883. Soon after his return van Rysselberghe met the poet and critic Émile Verhaeren (1855-1916) who would become a friend, traveling companion and artistic collaborator. That fall van Rysselberghe participated in a meeting with other avant-garde artists and a Brussels lawyer, Octave Maus (1856-1919), forming the group Les XX (The Twenty) to organize art exhibitions; Maus was the group’s secretary. Van Rysselberghe then departed for Morocco, where he stayed for nearly a year, working in a studio in Tangier. Les XX sponsored ten annual exhibitions before it disbanded in 1894; Van Rysselberghe exhibited in nine of them, including its first show in 1884. Other artists not members of the group were invited to exhibit as well, such as James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903), whose works shown in 1884 had an immediate influence on van Rysselberghe, notable in his portrait of Maus (1885, Brussels: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts). Verhaeren invited van Rysselberghe to visit Paris in 1886, where they saw the eighth Impressionist exhibition, include Georges Seurat’s (1859-1891) Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86; Art Institute of Chicago), done in his Pointillist style. Impressed, van Rysselberghe adopted the technique, also called “neo-impressionism,” and successfully urged Maus to invite Seurat to exhibit at the 1887 Les XX exhibition, which featured Neo-Impressionists. Through that show he met Paul Signac (1863-1935), another Neo-Impressionist, who became a long-time friend. Van Rysselberghe made his third trip to Morocco during the winter of 1887-1888. After his return he began using the pontillist technique in his portraits. Van Rysselberghe married Marie Monnom, the daughter of a wealthy publisher, in 1889, probably leading to his interest in designing books and posters, including his poster design for the 1889 Les XX exhibition. He illustrated a dozen books by his friend Verhaeren. He began exhibiting with the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1890; he would exhibit in several of this group’s shows through 1906. During the next decade van Rysselberghe began making etchings and lithographs, designed more posters, and designed decorative items including furniture, murals, stained glass and jewelry. One of his etchings, Flotille de Péche (Fishing Fleet, Stein/Kershan 77), was created in 1894 for André Marty’s (1857-?) famous series L’Estampe originale (The Original Print). In addition to his extensive creative work, he and his new wife traveled throughout Europe. In 1898 they moved to Paris, and would live in France for the rest of his life. In 1903 van Rysselberghe painted his noted work, A Reading (Ghent: Museum voor Schone Kunsten), portraying Verhaeren and other writers. Visits to Signac in St. Tropez and Henri-Edmund Cross (1856-1910) in Saint-Clair, part of Le Lavandou, on the coast, led him to spend more time on France’s Mediterranean coast. Perhaps influenced by Provençal light, van Rysselberghe gradually abandoned Neo-Impressionism and painted with bright Fauvist colors. One-man shows were mounted for him in Parisian galleries in 1895, 1905 and 1908. His brother Octave (1855-1929), a noted architect, designed a house for Théo in 1911 in Saint-Clair, which became his principal residence. Continuing to work, van Rysselberghe created murals, portraits, landscapes, large canvases featuring female nudes, and a few sculptures. Late in his life he was honored by membership in Belgium’s Order of Léopold and the Royal Academy, and a retrospective exhibition in Brussels. He died in Saint-Clair in 1926. (TNB 8/2013) Selected bibliography: Bertrand, Oliver, ed. Theó van Rysselberghe. Exhibition catalog. Brussels: Mercatorfonds, Brussels Centre for Fine Arts and Belgian Art Research Institute, 2006. Stein, Donna M. and Donald H. Karshan. L'estampe originale, a Catalogue Raisonné. Exhibition catalog. New York: Museum of Graphic Art, 1970. Stevens, MaryAnne and Robert Hoozee, ed. Impressionism to Symbolism: The Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900. Exhibition catalog, pp. 237-251. London: Royal Academy of Arts, and Gheyt: Ludion Press, 1994.