Rik Wouters, a whirlwind of colours and life-like poses
Hendrik Wouters, considered the master of Brabant fauvism, was a man of many talents. Painter, sculptor, draughtsman, etcher and watercolourist, one of the most remarkable and - among his fellow-countrymen - most appreciated Belgian artists of the beginning of the 20th century. The oeuvre that he left behind just before turning 34 is one of the most beautiful tributes to life and love.
Born in 1882 in Mechelen, Wouters is the son of a woodcarver. He becomes familiar with the craft in his father's workshop, before attending the Mechelen Academy of Fine Arts. In 1900 he enrols as a student at the Academy of Brussels, specifically in the 'natural sculpting' course given by Charles Van der Stappen. In this period the young artist has trouble finding inspiration and finds himself confined in the Academy's straitjacket and the allegorical themes of its contests.
At the age of 22 he meets the love of his life, Hélène Duerinckx, his 'Nel', who becomes his wife, favourite model and muse. As his wife suffers from tuberculosis, the couple decides to move to the south of Brussels, still a rural place at the time. However, due to a lack of money they can't stay there for long and move into the parental home in Mechelen. As a result of the pressure he's under, Rik does not produce anything worthwhile during that period.
In 1907 the couple moves to Bosvoorde, in the Bezemhoek at the edge of the Sonian forest, where they stay until the war. That's where Rik and his wife spend the happiest days of their lives and where he reaches his peak level of creativity. He mostly devotes his time to painting and his happiness is reflected in his oeuvre, a tribute to joy and an explosion of colours, used to portray everyday scenes and to paint life in the woods, which he is able to observe from his window.
During his trip to Paris in 1912, Wouters finally discovers the palette of Cézanne. He is pleased to once again see Monet's impressionist landscapes, Renoir's flesh-coloured women and Matisse's colour explosion; all painters who have influenced his colour rendering. He also discovers Degas, Sisley, Picasso, Greco and Goya, who will also contribute to his artistic universe.
In 1912 he also creates his most surprising sculpture, because of the passion it radiates: Crazy Violence, also known as The Foolish Virgin, some kind of flying bacchante who is launching into a frenetic dance. In 1913 he becomes more daring in exploring the contrasts between red and green colours; his predators were simply begging for it.
Just before the war the artist is called up for duty. As a soldier, he is confronted with the terror, death and destruction in Belgium, and finally ends up in an internment camp in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands. During his time in the camp, he escapes the horrors of war by making paintings and watercolours. He develops jawbone cancer and as his health rapidly deteriorates, he is released and moves to Amsterdam with Nel. That's where he dies on 11 July 1916, at the age of 33, after having created several more masterpieces.
© Foto's: Stad Mechelen – Musea & Erfgoed