This depiction of the daily life of the leisured middle classes, specifically of women, was a major subject matter for de Smet, and these women were often depicted in his celebrated richly decorated interiors. At once imposing and intimate, Roze Harmonie is a remarkable example of this key Impressionist theme: that of woman depicted in a domestic setting with the viewer occupying the role of voyeur. The present work is a wonderfully evocative scene, the delightful depiction of the pink dress, together with the sumptuous bed cover and lace of the tablecloth, are all reflective of the figure's femininity and grace. The woman is lost in the depths of slumber, an escapism that is echoed by the richly decorative fabrics that surround her. Her dress has fallen down over her shoulders to reveal the pinky flesh of her heaving bosom, which is depicted with the same glorious attention as the sumptuous fabrics of her environment. Her relaxed, collapsed pose is one of unaffected and private abandon and this lends the work a wonderfully intimate and natural air. The palette is one of exceptional subtlety and the nuanced range of pale pinks, whites and yellows perfectly suit this feminine imagery as well as de Smet’s masterful depiction of light. The sunlight beams in from an invisible window behind so that the whole scene is cast in a reassuring glow and indeed the viewer can almost feel the warmth of the sun on the woman’s ankles.
The sleeping woman is a subject that fascinated not only the Impressionists, but many other great masters of the twentieth century, perhaps most famously Pablo Picasso: it is woman in her most transported, intangible, and mysterious state, in other words, at her most desirable. This luxuriously decorated room that the woman in Roze Harmonie inhabits invites comparison with the sumptuous settings employed by other Impressionists such as Édouard Vuillard, and the two artists also share a fascination in the private domestic moment as a worthy artistic theme. Of course this voyeurism was also famously explored by Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in many different settings but most effectively in their explorations of the nude in her bathroom. Picasso’s numerous depictions of sleeping women are among his most famous and most loved works, especially those soft depictions of his young lover Marie-Thérèse from the 1930s. The tradition of the reclining figure is a very old one in the history of art, and de Smet was not the only modern artist to adapt and develop the genre to suit his own artistic inclinations. Roze Harmonie avoids any of the detachment of the paid model: the sense of intimacy suggests this is probably his lover and the resulting sense of possession is undeniable.
Quite apart from the exquisite beauty of the image itself, Roze Harmonie is also rich in both textural and art historical references: the ornamental surface nods to the shimmering canvasses of Klimt, and the depiction of the sleeping woman acknowledges the Impressionist movement’s fascination with the depiction of the intimacy of a fleeting, domestic moment. The present work is a wonderfully sumptuous and evocative image: de Smet here creates a dreamlike atmosphere where the viewer feels privileged to be witness, for just a moment, to a private world.
Léon de Smet is one the great Belgian artists of the twentieth century and a key figure in the second wave of the L'École de Laethem-Saint-Martin, a group of multi-generational artists who assembled from the end of the 19th century in the village of Saint-Martens-Latem, south of Ghent in Belgium. There was no real stylistic unity between the second wave group of Latem artists, as the various members experimented with different avant-garde styles and techniques, including Impressionism, Symbolism, Pointillism, Luminism, Fauvism, Neo-Impressionism, Expressionism and Surrealism. Already in 1911 (and just a year before the present masterpiece was painted), de Smet's friend, the critic André de Ridder, observed the skill of the artist: ‘Of the painters in Latem, Léon de Smet is without doubt the most self-certain; he hesitates less than the rest and can address a subject with unparalleled candour. Of the artists there, he is the most mature and most skilful’. During de Smet's sojourn in this artist’s colony from 1906 until 1913, the Neo-Impressionistic handling, of which the present work is an excellent example, gained importance in his œuvre, in parallel to the work of his peer there, Théo van Rysselberghe.
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