Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)

Le Docteur Auguste Weber

Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
Le Docteur Auguste Weber
signed with the monogram (upper right)
oil on canvas in the artist's original frame
Canvas: 39 3/8 x 32 1/4 in. (100 x 82 cm.)
Artist’s frame: 41 1/4 x 33 1/2 in. (104.8 x 85 cm.)
Painted in Dudelange between 1892-1893
Dr Auguste Weber, Luxembourg, by whom commissioned from the artist, and thence by descent.
Mme Auguste Collart, Bettembourg.
Jacques Schroeder, Brussels.
Anonymous sale, Hôtel des Ventes d'Enghien, Enghien-les-Bains, 13 April 1986, lot 28.
Clayre & Jay Haft, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Sotheby's, Paris, 2 July 2008, lot 19.
Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Letter from Théo van Rysselberghe to G. Morren, 14 May 1893.
G. van Zype, 'Notice sur Théo van Rysselberghe', in Annuaire de l'Académie royale de Belgique, Brussels, 1932, p. 34 (dated '1891').
P. Fierens, Théo van Rysselberghe. Avec une étude de Maurice Denis, Brussels, 1937, p. 16 (dated '1891').
G. Pogu, Théo van Rysselberghe. Sa vie. Premiers éléments, Paris, 1963, p. 17.
R. Feltkamp, Théo van Rysselberghe 1862-1926, Catalogue raisonné, Brussels, 2003, no. 1893-002, p. 297 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
Exh. cat., The Neo-Impressionist Portrait 1886-1904, Brussels & Indianapolis, 2014, pl. 55, p. 194 (illustrated p. 195).
Brussels, Galerie Georges Giroux, Théo van Rysselberghe. Exposition d'ensemble, November - December 1927, no. 19.
Luxembourg, Musée national d'Histoire et d'Art, Théo van Rysselberghe 1862-1926, October - November 1962, no. 24.
Ghent, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Théo van Rysselberghe néo-impressionniste, March - June 1993, no. 36, p. 92 (illustrated p. 93; with incorrect dimensions).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Théo van Rysselberghe, February - May 2006, pp. 216 & 257 (illustrated p. 217; with incorrect dimensions); this exhibition later travelled to The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, June - September 2006.
New York, Adam Williams Fine Art, Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., An Exhibition of Master Drawings and Paintings, January - February 2009, no. 40.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

We thank Olivier Bertrand for providing additional information on this painting which will be included in his Théo Van Rysselberghe catalogue raisonné.

‘I never considered division, or pure pigment, as an aesthetic principle – even less as a philosophy – but rather as a means of expression’ (Van Rysselberghe, quoted in D. Hardeman, L. Stamps & B. Tempel, Meer dan kleur. Fauvisme en expressionism uit de collective van de Triton Foundation, exh. cat., Den Haag, 2009, p. 11).

One of only a handful of male portraits created by Théo van Rysselberghe using the highly detailed precision of the Pointillist technique, Le Docteur Auguste Weber displays not only the sheer virtuosity of the artist’s painterly style at the height of his involvement with Pointillism, but also his innate ability to capture a sense of the sitter’s unique character with the subtlest of details. The portrait was commissioned by Doctor Weber in the spring of 1893, most likely following an introduction by his wife, Berthe (née Gansen), who had been a close family friend of the artist’s wife Maria since childhood. Van Rysselberghe began the composition in May of 1893, while visiting Doctor Weber at his home in Luxembourg, spending almost two months working there on the composition before returning to Brussels to complete the portrait.

Though nothing in the painting suggests the sitter’s profession, Doctor Weber was an esteemed clinician, having studied medicine in Paris, Vienna and Ghent before establishing a practice in his native Luxembourg during the 1880s. Towards the end of the decade, Weber began to work closely alongside his wealthy industrialist cousin, Émile Mayrisch, on the revolutionary healthcare service he established for the employees who worked in his factories at Dudelange. Earning a reputation as a sharp diagnostician, Weber’s amiable nature and sense of humour made him popular amongst the firm’s employees. During the course of his career, Weber’s clinical knowledge saw him appointed to many national commissions, eventually leading the Administrative Council to Combat Tuberculosis and Cancer as its president. Though Weber’s professional achievements were many, for this private commission Van Rysselberghe does not focus on the sitter’s distinguished medical career, but rather chose to capture a sense of the kindly nature of the man himself, his approachable demeanour, and his affability. The small painting just visible on the wall in the background, meanwhile, alludes to a lesser known aspect of the sitter’s personality – his enthusiastic patronage of the arts, and his burgeoning role as a keen collector of contemporary painting.

There is a distinct informality to Van Rysselberghe’s portrayal of Weber – settled into a relaxed pose, his right arm draped over the back of the chair, the sitter appears nonchalant before the artist’s gaze, as if captured in a moment of temporary rest before he continues on with his daily activities. The casual pose echoes the informal portraiture of the seventeenth-century artist Frans Hals, whose dynamic, animated renderings of his sitters led him to become one of the most celebrated portrait artists of the Dutch Golden Age. From the 1860s onward, renewed interest in Hals made the museum dedicated to his memory in Haarlem a mecca for painters, with figures such as Courbet, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Sargent and Whistler all travelling to pay homage to the great artist. For Van Rysselberghe, who visited the museum in Haarlem in the summer of 1883 and again in August 1885, the draw of Hals’s art lay in the spontaneity of his sitter’s poses, with paintings such as the Portrait of W. Van Heythuysen capturing Van Rysselberghe’s artistic imagination.

There is of course a contradiction in this impression of spontaneity in Weber’s pose and the realities of the painstaking labour required to achieve the Pointillist technique. The ‘snapshot’ nature of the pose belies the intensive and time-consuming application of each tiny dot of paint onto the canvas, not to mention the technical skill required to create a sense of volume, space and three-dimensionality through the subtle modulation of colour alone. In the portrait of Weber, the sitter’s elegant three-piece suit becomes a dancing play of green, orange and gold, the soft folds of the fabric captured through the introduction of subtly varying shades of green and blue. Numbering in their thousands, the rigorously applied dots faithfully follow the tenets of Georges Seurat’s revolutionary style, indicating Van Rysselberghe’s devotion to the technique. As such, the portrait of Doctor Weber can be seen not only as a showcase of Van Rysselberghe’s mastery of the style, but also the endless possibilities Pointillism offered for creating a completely novel approach to portraiture.

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