T he emergence of a remarkable group of paintings and works on paper by the Belgian impressionist Jenny Montigny offers an unparalleled opportunity to rediscover this pioneering female Impressionist. Never seen at auction before, the works have remained with the descendants of the artist, and will be offered in our auction European Art: Paintings and Sculpture, open for bidding 12-18 June.
The group in our sale, comprising three oils and five works on paper, is led by the magnificent composition Fille au jardin. A tour de force of ‘Luminism’, the Belgian post-Impressionist movement active around 1900, the painting is arguably the finest work by Montigny ever to appear at auction. Radiating the carefree atmosphere of a summer’s day, the painting’s luminous, idyllic quality is achieved by a highly energetic pattern of linear brushstrokes, juxtaposed to give a shimmering effect.
A founding member of the Luminist movement Vie et Lumière in 1904, Montigny was the favourite pupil of the painter Emile Claus. The portrait he painted of her can be seen in the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The two enjoyed an intimate friendship that would last throughout their lives, and their names have long been linked. However as female artists are increasingly being rediscovered, Montigny is gaining recognition in her own right, rather than simply being a footnote in the story of Emile Claus. While she became obscure later in life, Montigny’s artistic career was not without success. Montigny was one of only three female artists in her circle to be honoured with a museum acquisition, as the Fine Arts Museum (MSK) in Ghent acquired The Gardener in 1913. A monumental painting measuring 180 by 245cm, The Gardener is comparable to the present work in its setting and firework-like brushwork.
Born in Ghent where her father was a law professor at the city’s university, Montigny’s early interest in art was fuelled by an early encounter with The Ice-Skaters by Emile Claus, housed in the MSK. This pivotal experience led her to take private lessons with Claus at his country home Villa Zonneschijn. Unsupported by her parents, who disapproved of her artistic interests, Montigny dared to be independent, and settled at Villa Rustoord in nearby Deurle in 1904. While a number of other female artists emerged at this time, notably Anna de Weert (nee Cogen), Montigny was unique in living on her own, with neither a husband nor her parents. She made her debut at the Ghent Salon in 1902, and was a founding member of the Vie et Lumière group. During the First World War Montigny (like Claus) moved to London, exhibiting with the Women’s International Art Group at the Grafton Galleries.