To the Stedelijke Musea Brugge,
for the Groeningemuseum, Bruges
Charon or Le Nautonier Maudit
Original drawing | 231 x 294 mm
Pen in ink and watercolour on paper
Signed with monogram
Ancienne collection Paul Eeckhout
Click image to enlarge
Verbond voor Kunsten, Letteren en Wetenschappen, Antwerp,
26 January until 2 February 1896 (cat. 24, as "Chaaron, de helleschipper")
Salon de La Libre Esthétique, Brussels,
22 February until 30 March 1896 (cat. 177, as "Charron")
Probably: Krefeld, February 1902.
Francine-Claire LEGRAND, Het Symbolisme in België, (Brussel : Laconti), 1971, ill. p. 149
Le Symbolisme dans le Dessin belge, (Bruxelles : Laconti), 1979, ill.
We are delighted to present our recent acquisition of a symbolist masterpiece by Charles Doudelet. "Charon", exhibited for the first time in 1896, places Doudelet and his distinctive Belgian style among the ranks of the most important international symbolist artists. Graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, the young artist mixed with Karel Van de Woestijne, George Minne and others in the symbolist circles around the city. His most important encounter however, came in 1892, when Doudelet met and befriended the poet Maurice Maeterlinck. By commissioning Doudelet to illustrate his books Maeterlinck would be instrumental in the development of Doudelet's personal style. In 1896, Doudelet was granted the honour of illustrating Maeterlinck's "Douze Chansons" ("Twelve Songs"), a literary work that would go down in history as well for Maeterlinck's mature symbolism as for Doudelet's illustrations. As such, Doudelet became famous for his boldly graphic woodcuts, often coloured in a basic scheme. A typically Belgian Symbolist style ensues when we note apparent similarities in style in the works of George Minne; also an illustrator for Maeterlinck.
Doudelet's close relation to the art of bookmaking didn't go unnoticed. In 1900, the Belgian government asked Doudelet to complete a study on the history of book- and printmaking. In the process of doing so Doudelet travelled Europe extensively. Having access to the most exclusive libraries he stayed in Italy until 1924, losing contact with his important (but slowly disappearing) Belgian market. While symbolist works by Doudelet from the 20th Century are available, (he still illustrated works by Materlinck in 1921 and 1922), his important symbolist production between 1892 and 1900 is very rare, with even his prints highly sought after.
The present sheet is an unique example of Doudelet's mature style at the creative height of his career. A drawing in pen and ink copies the harsh black lines of a woodcut print. The way in which the watercolour is laid on top of the drawing produces a veil of both colour and texture. Charon, the ferryman of Hades, takes the soul of a newly deceased across the river Styx, that divides the world of the living and the world of the dead. At the forefront of modern art at its day, "Charon" or "Le Nautonier Maudit" has been exhibited amongst others at the avant-guard Salon de La Libre Esthétique in 1896. The present sheet comes from the collection of the late Paul Eeckhout, director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Ghent between 1948 and 1982. His collection was renown for its Belgian symbolist drawings, having an important holding of works by Charles Doudelet, of which the present sheet is without a doubt the most important one.