Theo Van Rysselberghe

Belgian, 1862-1926 Biography

At the same time that the radical group Les XX was formed in Brussels, Théo van Rysselberghe was one of Belgium’s most prominent young painters and graphic artists. He was born in Ghent in 1862, and was formally trained at the academies in Ghent and Brussels. Although primarily an academic painter, his exposure to Seurat and Signac made him the chief exponent of Neo-Impressionism in Belgium. Because of van Rysselberghe, Brussels became a major center of Neo-Impressionism, second only to Paris.

On his return trip from French Morocco, van Rysselberghe brought back with him La Fantasia, which was painted in luminous colors. He met Seurat in Paris in 1884 and immediately embraced Divisionism, remaining faithful to the Neo-Impressionists until 1910. The thick, dark colors of his early paintings were soon replaced by the brilliant palette of the Pointillists. Even in his most significant contributions to the Neo-Impressionist style, van Rysselberghe’s strength as a painter is not truly revealed. But his early portraits of the artists of Les XX are strong documents of the Belgian art scene and thoroughly establish his position as Belgium’s most significant and dedicated painter.

Not only was van Rysselberghe one of the best Belgian painters of the manners and morals of his time, but in the realm of form he expressed a new type of feminine beauty, fresh and ingenuous. He painted women from all stations in life, women in the homes, in the streets, the awkward grace of a girl carrying laundry, women at their daily tasks.

Van Rysselberghe’s women differ not in the realm of womanhood, but in his treatment of them. His is strictly Belgian, for his women are fully clothed as they approach the ritual of the boudoir. They perform no mundane routine duty. For them, dressing is an art and should be painted as such. Van Rysselberghe was a tireless experimenter, moving and placing his subjects until the contour of line and color were a blend of unrivaled skill and resourcefulness.

From 1898 on, van Rysselberghe lived in France. He died in 1926 at Saint Claire.