We thank Olivier Bertrand for providing additional information on this painting which will be included in his Théo Van Rysselberghe Catalogue raisonné.
Dissatisfaction with contemporary life spurred painters to search for an idyllic landscape of the past. Scenes such as the present defy temporal specification and suggest an attempt to convey the sublime. Capturing the impression of Arcadian beauty that the artist was so fervently in pursuit of, the present work evokes the beatific coastline of Southern France painted in a manner controversial to the Academy. Van Rysselberghe spent time roaming Europe searching for inspiration and in December of 1887 he was to make his third trip to Morocco. His time in Morocco and his frequent sojourns to the South of France introduced him to the scenery he so avidly sought to portray.
The Neo-Impressionists became fixated upon a quest for a ‘New Arcadia’, a land in which social equality prevailed. Van Rysselberghe, alongside artistic peers such as Henri Cross and Paul Signac, spent a lot of time in the South of France where the lifestyle was far removed from the bustle of the capital. The South of France became a utopia where van Rysselberghe reimagined the local people as working in blissful harmony, at one with the fields in which they toiled. Although unpopulated, van Rysselberghe reflects this idyll in the present work through the tranquillity of the landscape portrayed.
The representation of light became a primary focus for van Rysselberghe following a trip in 1883 when the artist travelled to Haarlem to study light in the work of Frans Hals. As the Impressionists had done before him, van Rysselberghe often worked en plein air, carrying his canvases with him to allow for a more realistic and enchanting representation of painterly light. The small scale of this work made this method of working possible.
As a prominent co-founder of the avant-garde group Les XX, van Rysselberghe sought to reinvigorate art and rebel against the outmoded academicism that prevailed in the 19th century. After exhibiting his work in the 1886 Les XX exhibition of French Impressionists he became influenced by Monet and Renoir and experimented with the Impressionist technique. In Pluie fine Van Rysselberghe employs layered brushstrokes to capture the transient impression of a moment in time, resulting in an atmospheric landscape that captures the ephemeral nature of light. Pluie fine is a beautiful example of Van Rysselberghe’s technique of light-painting and portends his later development into the exploration of light through Pointillism.
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