• France, collection particulière
Lemmen and the Belgian Avant-garde
“Mr. Lemmen should be classified among the ‘intimists.’ He is a member of Vuillard’s and Bonnard’s spiritual family,” wrote Octave Maus in L’Art Moderne in 1906, on the occasion of Georges Lemmen’s first one-man show. Jurist and art critic, Maus was a founding father of publications which were emblematic of the Belgian avant-garde: the review, L’Art Moderne, the Circle of XX, and then Libre Esthétique. He was one of Lemmen’s first supporters and counted among his most loyal friends.
In 1879, Georges Lemmen entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode. He benefited from innovative instruction oriented towards practice and technique and associated with many future members of the XX. His first important works dated to 1883. Five years later, at the same time as Henry Van de Velde and Auguste Rodin, he joined the Circle of XX, and took advantage of the spirit of international artistic emulation which reigned there.
In 1877, 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, from 1889 until 1893, the painter participated in the Salon of the Independents in Paris. In 1894, he abandoned Divisionism in order to move closer to the Arts and Crafts movement in the wake of William Morris, Walter Crane, and Mackmurdo. Lemmen associated with Henry Van de Velde who was engaged in similar experiments. He completed his practice with theoretical writings, articles, and chronicles, but – as opposed to Van de Velde - only scratched the surface while his peers were exploring architecture and daily objects.
Choosing Intimate Subjects
Starting in 1900, Lemmen moved away from Arts and Crafts to take up painting again, where he concentrated on intimate subjects focused on his own family. His first forays into exploring family life went back to his pointillist period. At that time, he painted a Bourgeois Interior (current location unknown) which brought several members of his family together around a table in the course of their daily activities. This work had been preceded by two years of preparatory studies which laid the groundwork for his future preference for intimate subjects. Endowed with a lot of sensitivity, Lemmen sought to capture his sitters’ interior life and profound aliveness which he conveyed in serene contemplative compositions which barely revealed the secret torments of this eternally tortured mind. At the turn of the century, his wife Aline and his sons Pierre, Jacque, and Lise had become his main sitters.
Style and Technique of our Drawing
Here Lemmen sketched a double portrait of a woman who is stripped of attributes and can be recognized as his wife. In the left part of the sheet, long charcoal lines trace the silhouette of a standing young woman in profile with her hands resting on each other. The ample uncorsetted dress is placed with a few efficient strokes. Black chalk and charcoal, highlighted with white chalk, detail the face more precisely. Regular hatching suggests the background. Lemmen had already drawn Aline Maréchal standing in strict profile before his marriage. The young fiancée gives way here to a fully developed woman of whom another very similar profile portrait is known, Madame Georges Lemmen (1903-1907, red chalk and lead point, 39.5 x 27 cm. / 15 9⁄16 x 10 5⁄8 in., private collection).
On the right side of the sheet, her head, caught in profile against backlighting with the chin slightly lifted, catches the draughtsman’s attention again, while the bust is simply outlined. The artist uses a velvety thick charcoal which gives structure to the black chalk lines. Detaching the sitter from background shadows, light illuminates the contour, emphasizes the neck, while bringing out the ridge of the nose, the form of the lips, and the curve of the chin.
Bonds of Affection
Lemmen’s works modestly reveal the bonds of affection which linked him to his sitters. The shadow projected onto the face and the elusive eyes – as eyes often are in his portraits – far from denying the sitter’s inner life, evoke a quest. One of the artist’s phrases which was written during a review of Libre Esthétique’s first exhibition in 1894 explicitly exhibits this concern:
“When Rembrandt plunged a figure into profound darkness from which it seemed to surge, he did so to clothe it in mystery, to give it more intense life, to evoke a sad soul’s distance and reclusion, as if to stir up a whole history of suffering.”
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.
Atelier Georges Lemmen, succesion de Madame Theveni-Lemmen, fille du peintre, 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.