Firmin BAES (Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode, 1874 - Uccle, 1945)

OLD WOMAN SPINNING

90 x 75 cm. (35 716 x 29 ½ in.)
1943. Pastel on canvas. Signed lower right Firmin Baes. Verso: countersigned, titled, and numbered 1015.

Provenance
• Conserved by the artist until his death.
• By inheritance until now.

"There was something firm and male yet shrouded in his art. His coloring had sobriety and brilliance. His drawing was broad and almost sculptural. He saw and characterized with a penetrating simplicity […] Nothing is there for romantic tenderness. "
La Belgique artistique et littéraire, vol. XVIII, 1910, p. 367.

Firmin Baes was initiated in drawing very early by his father, Henri Baes, Painter-decorator and professor at the Academy of Brussels. He then received a complete artistic education, first as a student of Léon Frédéric, a family friend, and then at the School of Fine Arts, and finally in a private academy, “la Patte de Dindon” (literally, the Turkey Claw), which was situated above a public house of the same name on the Grand’Place in Brussels.

Starting in 1898, Baes was part of the For Art Circle, founded six years earlier by members of the Essor group. Archers exhibited at the circle in 1900, and then at the Universal Exposition in Paris, constituted the artist’s first big success and made him known to the greater public. From then on, his clientele never ceased to increase, as it was seduced by his gifts as a colorist, his mastery of drawing and talents as a portraitist: sitters in his own family circle were rapidly succeeded by members of the aristocracy and grand Belgian bourgeoisie, beginning with the Countess of Aerschot who commissioned him in 1915.

Baes’ first works were in charcoal and oils, but as of the 1910s, the artist became infatuated with pastels which ended up supplanting the other media. The artist elaborated a particular technique of pastel on prepared canvas prepared according to a process he had developed himself and which he kept a secret. Confronted with a fragile velvety substance, his hand evolved equally towards more finesse, roundness, and balance. The painter always began by tracing the main lines in charcoal, and then moved on to color by multiplying the tints in turn sober and faint, or vigorous and flamboyant, full of the pastel substance or delicately stumped with his fingers. With the same patient application, he went into all the details, as much in the foreground as in the background.

Baes spent winters in Brussels, in his mansion on Avenue Molière, and summers in the countryside, notably Faulx-les-Tombes near Namur. He rented the City Château there, then bought a piece of land and had a villa built there which he named “Le Chenois.” At Faulx-les-Tombes where his repertory was already vast – portraits, but also landscapes, still life, female nudes, and interior scenes – was enriched to include depictions of young or old peasants in simple poses. Realized from life, these pastels are neither portraits properly speaking, nor figures of fantasy, but memories set to canvas the rustic atmosphere and people of the countryside where he had grown up and which he avidly sought out.

Our work is one of these simple compositions, often produced at the Chenois, in front of an open window overlooking the peaceful landscape of Faulx-les-Tombes. Baes habitually spent the morning on portraits and the afternoon on still lifes. Thus this soft morning light envelopes the figure of the Spinner and slides over her working hands, her grey hair, and the wood of the loom. The old woman’s eyes gaze down on the wool flowing between her fingers, but she seems absent, absorbed in her thoughts. With her white bonnet, the verity and simplicity of her gesture, she appears to come out of a painting by one of the Dutch masters of the Golden Age. The coloring, in a harmony of greys, blues, and ochres, as well as the precise rendering of details and materials contribute to this impression. Only the spinner’s scarf with its insistent abstract design, and the villa surrounded by trees and bordered by haystacks visible through the window resituate the scene in his epoch.
A.Z.
Transl. chr

Related Literature
Georgette NAEGELS-DELFOSSE, Firmin Baes
, Bruxelles, Éditions d’Art Associés, 1987, ill. p. 152.

See more