Lot 208
  • 208

RIK WOUTERS | Portrait de femme, blouse bleue

400,000 - 600,000 EUR
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  • Rik Wouters
  • Portrait de femme, blouse bleue
  • bears the Foolish virgin stamp (on the stretcher)
  • oil on canvas
  • 75,2 cm x 61,1 cm; 29 5/8 x 24 in.
  • Painted in summer 1915 in Amsterdam.


Georges Giroux, Brussels
Willy Dubois-Englebert, Brussels
Oscar Mairlot, Brussels
Thence by descent to the present owner


Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, L'Art Contemporain, 1935, no. 487 (titled Femme en bleu)
Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rik Wouters, 1935, no. 103 (titled Femme en bleu)
Brussels, Maison de la Presse Communiste, Maîtres belges et étrangers, 1947, no. 117 (titled Femme en bleu)
Boitsfort, Maison Haute, Rik Wouters, 1947, no. 29 (titled Femme en bleu)
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Rik Wouters, 1957, no. 44 (titled Femme en bleu)
Antwerp, Koninklijk museum voor Schone Kunsten, Rik Wouters, 1957, no. 94 (titled Vrouw in het blauw)
Malines, Cultureel Centrum, Rik Wouters, 1966, no. 305
Brussels, Passage 44, Le fauvisme brabançon, 1979, no. 68, illustrated in the catalogue p. 87 (titled Dame en bleu)
Malines, Cultureel Centrum, Rik Wouters, 1982, no. 32 (titled Portret van Nel)
Brussels, Palais Provincial du Brabant, Rik Wouters, 1992, no. 108 (titled Portrait de Nel)
Ostend, Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst & Venlo, Musée van Bommel van Dam, Rik Wouters, 1994-95, no. 60-II, illustrated in the catalogue p. 114 (titled Portrait de Nel, blouse bleu)
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rik Wouters, des origines à l'œuvre, 2002, no. 164, illustrated in the catalogue np (titled Portrait de femme, blouse bleue)


Olivier Bertrand, Rik Wouters, les peintures: catalogue raisonné, Antwerp, 1995, no. 192, illustrated p. 222


The canvas is not lined and is slightly undulating. There is no evidence of retouching under UV light. There are a few flecks of paint losses in places, notably to the sitter's hair, below the sitter's proper left eye and to the centre of her blue jacket (approx. 14 cm from the lower edge). There are some small areas of stable paint shrinkage, notably to the sitter's proper right cheek, in the most vivid blue pigment and towards the left edge. This work is in overall very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1915, Portrait de femme, blouse bleue, is one of the last portraits of his wife and muse, Nel painted by Rik Wouters only a few months before his sudden death. At the peak of his career at this time, the young artist had won recognition in 1914 during his one man show at the Georges Giroux gallery in Brussels and at the Salon de l’Art Contemporain in Antwerp, where his works were presented alongside paintings by Ensor and Van Gogh. In October 1915, the Rijksmuseum also organized an exhibition of his works on paper. The critics were particularly laudatory of the work of this 31 year old artist, praising his “innovative and powerful youth”, “a marvelously productive labour… an artist of such fresh and audacious originality.”

Rik Wouters was an artist skilled in many mediums, as talented at drawing as he was at sculpture and painting. Above all, he was self-taught, and had learnt his profession whilst helping his father in the family workshop, building sculpted furniture typical of Malines, his native town. His first real training began at the age of fifteen when he enrolled at the evening classes of the Malines Academy where he followed drawing from antiquity classes, a practice that would accompany him throughout his creative process. If Rik Wouters’ initial training was in sculpture and drawing, it was the practice of the latter discipline that led him to painting in which he excelled. The artist’s oils on canvas are however very rare as he died young at the age of 33, ravaged by a cancer of the jaw. Moreover, Wouters trained in a sculptor’s workshop and only began to paint late in his life. His first works were marked by a technique of thick paint, laid on with a knife. Indian ink allowed him to free himself and to obtain an economy of gesture when he tackled the canvas, printing lightly his colours, obtaining a perfect technique during the years 1912-14.

In the present work, as in thirty or so other paintings, Rik Wouters depicted his wife and muse Nel, whose real name was Hélène Duerinckx. The young couple met at the Academy of Brussels in 1904. Nel quickly became his favorite model, generating his most remarkable and most researched works. When he painted this portrait, Rik Wouters was in Amsterdam, suffering from the cancer that killed him one year later. First confined in a hospital, he was joined by Nel. It was in this context that Wouters, continuing to paint despite his pain, produced this poignant portrait, one of his last masterpieces in tribute to his muse.

The painting is incredibly powerful with great chromatic intensity. As Roger Avermaete emphasized, “Rik Wouters will be true to form; and although laid low by his suffering, he will find the necessary energy to sing life, the multiple images of life.” (in Rik Wouters, Brussels, 1986).

An emblematic work, Portrait de femme, blouse bleue embodies Rik Wouters’ art at its height: by the depth of its palette, the vibration of tones and the particular attention to light, the painting reveals the painter’s dazzling talent, often considered as the inventor of fauvism in Belgium who marked several generations of artists there, and to whom the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, rendered tribute in a superb retrospective exhibition organized in 2017.

Wouters’ admiration of Cézanne is evident. We know that Wouters discovered Cézanne through his friend Simon Levy in May 2012 who showed him black and white reproductions. He thus continually wished to travel to Paris, in order to admire the works, which he finally did in 1914. The influence of the Aix master is significant here, whether in the manner in which the oil is placed on the canvas in several transparent layers or in the way the light perfectly sculpts volume. The figure emerges as if transfigured from this inimitable light that constitutes the essence of Wouters’ art.  To quote Michel Draguet, “over a century after the artist’s death, Rik Wouters’ paintings have kept their hedonist feeling that translates the strength of his love for Nel” (foreword for the retrospective exhibition Rik Wouters, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 2017).