General Meeting

Henri Evenepoel, the man and his art
Speaker: Simone Scott
CHÂTEAU SAINTE-ANNE Rue Du Vieux Moulin 103 1160 Bruxelles

Henri Evenepoel was born in Nice in 1872 of Belgian parents. After his initial training at art school in St Josse, he left for Paris in 1892 to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, entering the atelier of Gustave Moreau in 1893. An assiduous visitor to the Louvre, urged by Moreau, he copied Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Botticelli etc. but he also saw works by Manet, Degas, Whistler, Redon, among others, during temporary exhibitions.

A man of eclectic tastes, with an eye to a self-supporting career, Evenepoel, a born draughtsman, pursued a wide range of interests, including poster design, book illustration and print making in the footsteps of the artists he greatly admired, such as Toulouse Lautrec as well as Jules Chéret, Jean-Louis Forain, Théo Steinlen.

Our speaker, Simone Scott, is French and divides her time between Brussels and Manchester.  She has studied and earned degrees and other qualifications including from the Institut Royal Superieur d'Histoire de l'Art (IRSHAAB) here in Brussels.

Many of us will remember Simone’s talk to us in October 2016 on the German guest workers in Paris in the 18th & 19th centuries and I am sure that after her talk above, we will appreciate even more her ability to bring alive the artist in his time and place with the depth and breadth of her knowledge.

Note: Content and images not intended for copyright infringement.

A Review
A Review of Simone Scott's talk by Larisa Doctorow
Sunday in the Bois de Boulogne

On 14 October, ISG members had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Simone Scott about Henri Evenepoel, a Belgian painter who lived at the end of the 19th century. 

Henri Evenepoel was born in Nice from Belgian parents, but for most of his short-lived life, studied and worked in Paris, except for a trip to Algeria. He was a modest figure among the large number of Belgian and French painters of the time, thus it is hard to judge his achievements because he died at the age of 27, at the beginning of his career. 

His first and only personal exhibition took place in Brussels in 1899 just a few months before his death. It was successful and one of the major paintings shown there, ‘Promenade du Dimanche au Bois de Boulogne’ now hangs in the Brussels Royal Fine Arts Museum. He was also invited by the organizers of the Universal World Fair of 1900 in Paris to place his works in the Belgium pavilion. 

His talent was obvious from the start, but because it was multifaceted, he had a hard time choosing what he really wanted to do. He started with photography, and some striking images of Parisian city life demonstrated his talent. His father insisted he study design and become an important figure doing big projects such as decorating town halls or railways stations. 

In the Cafe d'Harcourt in Paris

His father was a cultivated but domineering man and throughout his life Henri remained attached to him. He would write to his father twice a week and some 300 letters have been recovered. This closeness was there in spite of the fact that his father wanted to control his life and his career. He took advantage of Henri’s trust to advise him what to do and even how to spend his evenings in Paris. 

Gradually Henri chose painting and entered the Académie de Saint Josse-ten-Noode in Brussels, before moving to The Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Next he went to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he received traditional training in which students copied works by great masters in the Louvre, painting from classical casts and nudes. This did not satisfy Henri Evenepoel and he changed to the atelier of Gustave Moreau. This famous painter was a good teacher who tried to understand each student and develop his talent. Here he stayed for several years and met other fellow students, with whom he developed close relationships. He met Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault, who introduced him to Fauvism.

From 1894, he began participating in group exhibitions, first as a portraitist. Usually the models were members of his family. At the first show, he exhibited a portrait of his cousin Louise and following year he presented four portraits. He continued participating in these group exhibitions till 1897, when he left for Algeria to improve his health. This trip had a big impact on his palette. The colours he chose became brighter utilizing many reds, oranges and greens. His mood also improved. 

In Paris, Henri Evenepoel lived in the family of his cousin Louise, whose husband was often away. Their close relationship developed into a love affair, and his son Charles was born, but at time it was not possible for Louise to get a divorce. This contributed to his sadness and depression. 

He did a striking portrait of his fellow student Paul Veneer who is depicted in bright red suit with a tapestry in the background. When it was exhibited in Paris, it created a furore. Now it is in the Musée d'Orsay. 

The Orange Market in Blida

After his return from Algeria he did big canvasses, including the aforementioned ‘Promenade du Dimanche au Bois de Boulogne’. We can say that at this point his career was launched. 

On the personal front, things were improving. Louise was getting divorced from her husband and he was hoping to marry her and to take his position as the father of his son. 

Self portrait 1899

Unexpectedly in this good, optimistic time he did a melancholic self-portrait, where the painter looks tired of life, much older than he actually was. It was as if he could foresee his own departure from the world. A few months later he was dead having caught tuberculosis. 

He has not been forgotten. The commune of Schaerbeek in Brussels gave his name to one of its streets, the rue Henri Evenepoel and his works are in The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, The Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and in The Museum of Ixelles. 

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