Petite Paysanne, ca. 1916
Oil and graphite on cardboard
40 x 50 cm | 19.69 x 15.75 in
Signed with initials bottom left ‘E.L.’
Presumably bought directly from the artist
Private Collection, Brussels
By 1932 in the Collection Saliez, Brussels
Thence by descent
Click image to enlarge
One of the most renown and exciting Belgian painters from the turn of the century, Eugène Laermans has traditionally been classified as a political painter. His monumental works often depict the working-class citizen and the masses, and have as such a clear socialist undertone. They are dark and stuffed with curved and bent men and women leaving the factories and entering church portals. These downtrodden laborers the artist graphically portrayed were closely affiliated to sinister caricatures. However, around 1916, a more delighted state-of-mind seems to enter his paintings. Suddenly, the clouded atmospheres make way for more pleasant themes. This did not last very long. Laermans reportedly contracted meningitis at the age of 11, which left him deaf and nearly mute. Concentrating all his attention on his sense of sight, this natural painter also lost what was most dear to him around 1924. Having become blind, the artist declared "Morally I have been dead for some time now, I am no longer Laermans, I cannot paint anymore" and radically stopped painting.
In 1927, King Albert I granted him the title of Baron. The artist fittingly chose his motto:
"Blessed is he who can see"
Allthough not dated, we believe this oilsketch stems from around 1916. The bright colors and atmosphere, the figure stripped of its background, reduced to the essentials; patches of color defining figure and horizon. It all seems to add up to around that date. Seemingly the same woman, with her rust-colored hair toned down by the sun, is to be found on many compositions from that period. With its modern use of color, the bruning sun and the rough, unvarnished paint, this work is at first glance not exactly what one would expect from Eugène Laermans. It was painted as a sketch, straight from life, and would serve him as a tool in the creation of large-scale works. It is, however, telling of the modernity of his works as an immediate forerunner of the Flemish Expressionist Movement.
Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels
Museum M, Leuven
Museum of Fine Arts, Liège
Stedelijk Museum Sint-Niklaas
Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle
Museum of Fine Arts, Mons
Museum of Ixelles
Musée Charlier, Brussels
Musée d'Orsay, Paris