Jeune Femme au bord de la grève exhibits the twin pre-occupations that shaped Van Rysselberghe's unique vision of Post-Impressionism, marrying the pointillist techniques of Seurat and Signac with style of portraiture that owes much to the example of Whistler. Theo Van Rysselberghe first encountered the work of Seurat and Signac in 1886 when he travelled to Paris in the company of the poet Emile Verhaeren. Determined to introduce the new style into Belgian art, he invited Signac to exhibit in the salon of Les XX just a year after their initial meeting in 1887, and became one of the few followers of Signac and Seurat that would fully incorporate their chromatic discoveries of applying paint in small dabs of complementary and contrasting colour into his own art.
Painted in 1901, the present work shows how the artist, like many of the other Post-Impressionists, turned away from the strict discipline of pointillisme towards a more naturalistic style around the turn of the century. "About 1900, Van Rysselberghe's art relaxed. The colourist had gradually left behind the orthodoxy of neo-impressionism. He was still 'separating' but in a less methodical manner. His brush-stroke was becoming larger. He was manipulating the brush and matching pure colour tones to each other with a new freedom. He was moving away from the technique of light-painting while preserving its spirit; he seemed no longer to consult anything but his instinct and his senses in the choice of tone and strength of colour, and in this disposition of strokes" (Paul Fierens, Théo van Rysselberghe, Brussels, 1937, p. 27)
The broader and more relaxed brushstrokes enable Van Rysselberghe to expand the possibilities of his portraiture, providing him with more scope to capture the ambience of the scene and the sensibility of the sitter. The artist here depicts a young lady sitting in the estuary of Ambleteusse, a village situated to the north of Boulogne very much visited by Van Rysselberghe and his friends, and allowed him to explore the theme of the figure in landscape in numerous works such as Summer Afternoon (1900), Young women on the beach (1901), Young girl with straw bonnet (1901) and The Reading (1903).
In this work the marine landscape is rendered in a variety of pastel hues, which complement the tones of the model's hat and flowing dress. Her pose and clasped hands are characteristic of the formal traditions of portraiture, but pointillist technique and unique palette subvert the conventions of composition, subordinating the distinction between figure and landscape to the overall ambience of the scene, created though the chromatic interplay of pastel colours. The enigmatic expression of the model's intense blue eyes brings a unique individual charm to the work.
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