• Belgium, Private Collection.
“Mr. Lemmen should be classified with the ‘Intimists.’ He belongs to Vuillard’s and Bonnard’s spiritual family,” wrote Octave Maus in L’Art Moderne in 1906 on the occasion of George Lemmen’s first individual exhibition. Art critic and jurist, Maus was one of the founding fathers of the review, L’Art Moderne, as well as of the Circle of XX and then the Libre Esthétique, emblems of the Belgian artistic avant-garde. He was one of Lemmen’s first supporters and counted among his most loyal friends.
In 1879, Lemmen entered the Fine Arts Academy in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode. There he benefited from the innovative instruction oriented towards practice and technique while associating with several future members of the XX. His first important works date to 1883. Five years later, concurrently with Henry Van de Velde and Auguste Rodin, he joined the Circle of XX and took advantage of the spirit of international artistic emulation that prevailed there.
In 1887, Seurat exhibited Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte with the XX. After having been influenced by Fernand Khnopff, Lemmen joined Seurat’s Neo-Impressionists in 1890 and shared their preoccupations. In fact, the painter participated from 1889 to 1893 in the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. In 1894, he abandoned Divisionism in order to draw closer to the Arts and Crafts movement in the wake of William Morris, Walter Crane, and Mackmurdo. Lemmen frequented Henry van de Velde, who was exploring similar avenues. He completed his practice with theoretical writings, articles, and chronicles, but, unlike Van de Velde, did not venture beyond the planar surface when his peers explored architecture or daily objects.
From 1900 on, Lemmen moved away from Arts and Crafts to renew his painting and concentrate on intimist subjects which focused on his own family. A “discrete flowering of intimist art in the spirit of observation which was both gentle and keen” followed. This manner, close to the French Nabis, was above all characterized by pictorial media handled in small brushstrokes, simplified contours and modeling, and compressed space as in a tapestry. Lemmen painted and drew his close relations, as well as nudes, still lifes, and views of rooftops.
On the other hand, the artist waited for an invitation from Frans Fonson in 1911 to join him in Beaulieu to do land and seascapes. Fascinated by Mediterranean colors, Lemmen stayed there for more than six weeks, working hard and absorbing new images. “Yesterday,” he wrote to his wife on April 22nd, “the sunset over the mountains and sea was an enchanting spectacle of which only beautiful Japanese prints [….] could give you an idea.” The artist said he was “repossessed lately by a passion for drawing (underlined in the text), by pure form, by this beautiful writing which has always been the strength of masters.”
The painter returned charmed by his trip. Exhibited at the Libre Esthétique in 1912, these Mediterranean studies were thus described by Louis Dumont-Wilden: “Mr. Lemmen’s refined eye discovered other nuances there. Before “the singing sea,” he remembered no one, he listened to the song, and he delightfully recounts what he retained.”
Our drawing probably figured in this exhibition. The work is evanescent, simultaneously a study after nature, calligraphy, reminiscence of Japanese engravings and of Post-Pointillist experimentation. Lemmen works in pencil and brush, multiplying lines, broad strokes, splotches which appear disorganized or even accidental, but which construct forms and differentiate the smooth surface of the water from the reliefs of the scrubby growth and cotton of the clouds. The artist suggests the play of the clear light of a spring morning by leaving the paper in reserve and freely letting his brush release pigment so that blends of shades and hues, as well as little air bubbles caught up in the paint, are preserved haphazardly. Similarly, he banishes green, although it is ever present in the South, in order to compose a harmony of primary colors softened by a few orange and purple tones.
M.B. & A.Z.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Roger CARDON, Georges Lemmen (1865- 1916), monographie générale suivie du catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre gravé, Antwerp, Pandora, 1990.
Roger CARDON, Georges Lemmen (1865-1916), exh. cat. Brussels, Ixelles Museum, 1997.
Georges Lemmen Studio, Heirs of Madame Theveni-Lemmen, the painter’s daughter, Sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Loudmer, June 29th, 1992.
Georges Lemmen, exh. cat. Brussels, Horta Museum, 1980.
Georges Lemmen, dessins et gravures, exh. cat. Brussels, Albert I Royal Library, 1965.
Marcel NYNS, Georges Lemmen, Antwerp, De Sikkel, 1954.