Theo Van Rysselberghe: Uncompromising Art
Born on 23 November 1862 in Ghent to a bourgeois family of architects, an engineer and a physicist. He studied painting at the Academies of Fine Arts in Ghent and Brussels. During a trip to Spain and Morocco in 1884, he discovered a bright and lively style of brushwork that was different to that of his previous, rather dark and academic, work.
On his return to Belgium, he helped set up the Groupe des XX (Group of Twenty), with Octave Maus as secretary, which he also joined at a later date. The aim of the group was to strengthen links between French and Belgian artists, to stand up for ‘the defence of uncompromising art’, and to lead ‘the deliberate, organised revolt against academism’. In March 1881, Octave Maus together with Edmond Picard, Victor Arnould (1838-1894) and Eugène Robert (1839-1911) launched the weekly journal L’Art Moderne that continued to exist until 1914, and of which Van Rysselberghe was a founding member. Thereafter, Maus, (founder and secretary of the Les XX group of artists (1884-1893), followed by La Libre Esthétique (1894-1914)), defended anything in art that was new or modern. He was also the first chairman of the association of Belgian authors writing in French, from 1902 to 1919.
He shared friendship and anarchistic ideas with his fellow artist Paul Signac. He wrote for the libertarian press and, in particular, on a regular basis for Jean Grave’s newspaper Les Temps nouveaux, for which he supplied drawings from 1897 to 1911. He associated with the geographer Élisée Reclus and the painter Camille Pissarro. In 1899, he designed the cover of La Morale anarchiste by Peter Kropotkin.
In 1896, Theo Van Rysselberghe travelled to the Netherlands with Signac, who had given him one of his first canvases of Saint Tropez in 1893. There, they painted. During that period, the La Libre Esthétique movement which he had helped set up replaced the group Les XX. The main aim of that group was to create social art. He was extremely interested in Art Nouveau and the decorative arts (furniture, jewellery, book printing and illustration).
At the end of the 1890s he settled in Provence, near Le Lavandou, and, in a certain sense, reverted to classicism. To his mostly unpeopled landscapes and his portraits of dreamy characters, Van Rysselberghe applies a subtle ‘alchemy of colours’ which helps transcend the present moment and gives them a complete, almost ethereal, nature.
Theo Van Rysselberghe died on 14 December 1926 in Le Lavandou, aged 64.
You can see works by him at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Liège, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent and the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts in Ixelles or on the following website: https://www.google.be/search?q=th%C3%A9o+van+rysselberghe+oeuvres.