Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of a Distinguished Private American Collection
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)

Barques de pêche–Méditerranée

Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926)
Barques de pêche–Méditerranée
signed with monogram and dated '1892' (lower right)
oil on canvas in the artist’s painted liner
25 ¼ x 33 in. (63 x 84 cm.) including painted liner
Painted in 1892
Saenger-Sèthe collection (acquired from the artist).
Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Perls, New York (by 1956); Estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, 19 May 1983, lot 312 (liner incorrectly attributed to Henry van de Velde).
Herbert Black, Montreal (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, New York, 10 November 1987, lot 25 (liner incorrectly attributed to Henry van de Velde).
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
G. Pogu, Théo van Rysselberghe: Sa vie, premiers éléments, Paris, 1963, p. 18.
C. Frèches-Thory, "La donation Ginette Signac" in La revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 1978, no. XXVIII, p. 112.
S.-M. Canning, A History and Critical Review of the Salons of 'Les Vingt', 1884-1893, Ph.D. diss., The Pennsylvania State University, State College, 1980, pp. 404-405 (titled Méditerranée).
S. Goyens de Heusch, L'impressionnisme et le fauvisme en Belgique, Antwerp, 1988, p. 452 (titled La Régate).
S. Mund and H. Bounameaux, "La cote de l'artiste: Théo van Rysselberghe" in Arts Antiques Auctions, 6 June 2001, p. 47 (titled La Régate).
R. Feltkamp, Théo van Rysselberghe: Catalogue Raisonné, Brussels, 2003, p. 295, no. 1892-011 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 58; titled La Régate).
C. Lloyd, D. Charles and P.D. Cate, Impressionists on the Water, exh. cat., Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2013, no. 149 (illustrated in color; titled La Régates).
Brussels, Musée Moderne, Les XX: Dixième exposition annuelle, February 1893, no. 3.
Ghent, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Théo van Rysselberghe, July-September 1962, p. 38, no. 58 (illustrated, pl. XXI; titled La Régate; liner incorrectly attributed to Henry van de Velde).
Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Collector's Passion, July-October 1991, pp. 87-88 (illustrated in color, p. 87, fig. 50; titled The Regatta).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, European Paintings from Private Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, June-August 1992, pp. 204-205, no. 131 (illustrated in color, p. 102, pl. 142; titled La Régate).
Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Impressions of the Riviera: Monet, Renoir, Matisse and their Contemporaries, June-October 1998, p. 14 (illustrated in color, fig. 7; titled La Régate).
Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Pursuing a Passion, March-May 1999.
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Méditerranée, de Courbet à Matisse, September 2000-January 2001, pp. 51 and 224, no. 85 (illustrated in color, p. 50, ill. 27; illustrated again, p. 224; titled La Régate).
Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Neo-Impressionism: Artists on the Edge, June-October 2002, pp. 19, 22, 47-48 and 84 (illustrated in color, p. 46, fig. 29; titled La Régate).
Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Paris and the Countryside: Modern Life in Late-19th-Century France, June-October 2006, p. 101 (illustrated in color, p. 102, fig. 65; detail illustrated in color on the frontispiece; titled La Régate).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Romance of Modernism, December 2006-May 2007, pp. 58 and 127 (illustrated in color, p. 59; titled La Régate; liner incorrectly attributed to Henry van de Velde).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Loves Impressionism, February-May 2014.
Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet, Collections privées: Un voyage des impressionnistes aux fauves, September 2018-February 2019, p. 150 (illustrated in color, p. 151; titled La Régate; liner incorrectly attributed to Henry van de Velde).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts (on extended loan, 2006-October 2019).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
We thank Olivier Bertrand for providing additional information on this painting which will be included in his Théo van Rysselberghe catalogue raisonné.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

On a gently rippling plane of turquoise water, under brilliant Mediterranean sun, a fleet of fishing boats glides past a rocky outcrop that glows orange in the iridescent light. Van Rysselberghe painted this seductive vista—one of the purest applications of divisionist principles in his oeuvre—during a two-month sailing trip in the south of France with Signac, his close friend and confrère in the movement. “Tightly controlled and geometrically regulated, La Régate [the present painting] exemplifies the very essence of Neo-Impressionist style,” Michael Marlais has written. “Impressionist naturalism is in the painting’s ancestry, with its plein air representation of boats, water, and sunlight. But the soul of this painting is an abstract structure imposed on nature. Like all representational art, it is a dialogue between the abstract and the real, but here the abstract speaks louder” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2002, p. 47).
Van Rysselberghe here celebrates the modernist transformation of the observed world into a decorative order of geometric, colored shapes. The basic formal elements of the composition are the interrelated, flat planes of water, land, and sky, which meet in the upper left corner of the painting. The boats are rendered as a rhythmic repetition of yellow triangles, their varying sizes a calculated nod to the conventions of perspectival recession. The tips of the sails nudge the high horizon but breach it only once and just barely, emphasizing its essential artifice as a line drawn across a two-dimensional surface. A scintillating array of meticulously applied dots in two sets of complementary colors—orange and blue, yellow and violet—creates an all-over surface pattern that reflects and amplifies the abstract pictorial order of the composition. At the same time, the precipitously elevated vantage point conveys a sense of tangible, physical reality, as though the viewer were standing at cliff’s edge, overlooking a vast body of rushing ocean water.
Van Rysselberghe painted this exceptional canvas in 1892, at the very height of his engagement with divisionism. His first encounter with this new avant-garde idiom had come in 1886, when he traveled from Brussels to Paris—his first trip to the French capital, at the age of 23—for the eighth and final Impressionist group show. Seurat’s divisionist manifesto La Grande Jatte was the succès de scandale of the exhibition. Van Rysselberghe and his traveling companion, the poet Emile Verhaeren, met with Seurat and arranged for him to exhibit the canvas the next year in Brussels with the avant-garde group Les XX, the principal vehicle for the dissemination of new artistic ideas in Belgium, which Van Rysselberghe had been instrumental in founding. Van Rysselberghe himself began painting in a divisionist manner in 1888 and soon became one of the movement’s foremost apostles. “Like you, I am more convinced than ever of the excellence of our technique,” he wrote to Signac in that year. “I find it genuinely voluptuous, it’s so logical and good” (quoted in Théo Van Rysselberghe, exh. cat., Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 2006, p. 135).
Seurat conceived the theory and practice of divisionism as a scientific, rational, and technical corrective to the Impressionists’ instinctive and spontaneous means of depicting nature. He advocated that the latest findings in color research, as revealed in the writings of Charles Blanc, Charles Henry, Michel-Eugène Chevreul, and Ogden Rood, be applied to painting in a calculated and systematic manner. While the Impressionists had employed painterly effects that captured the transience of the material world, Seurat sought to reveal the essential qualities that lie behind the changing face of nature. Van Rysselberghe, for his part, developed his own distinct form of divisionism, based in Seurat’s post-Impressionist vision yet with a uniquely Symbolist sensibility—a more deliberately inward path of heightened subjectivity, seeking to experience the world and its meaning through the exaltation of the spirit.
Van Rysselberghe and Signac’s trip to the sun-drenched Midi came on the heels of a difficult year for the divisionist circle and offered the painters a much-needed respite. On 29 March 1891, Seurat had tragically succumbed to diphtheria at the age of 31. A dispute arose in settling his estate, in which Signac came under attack from the Belgian neo-impressionist Georges Lemmen, among others; Van Rysselberghe stepped in successfully to mediate. During the ensuing months, Van Rysselberghe and Signac took on the task of securing Seurat’s formidable legacy, together organizing two memorial retrospectives, which were mounted at the annual exhibition of Les XX in Brussels in February 1892 and the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in March-April.
The pair set sail together on 26 March, less than a week after the latter show opened. They traveled on Signac’s sleek, eleven-meter cutter, the Olympia, built only the year before and named for Manet’s foundational modern painting. “I am leaving tomorrow for the south coast—with Pierre Olin,” Van Rysselberghe wrote to his friend, the art critic Octave Maus. “He will leave me at Bordeaux and Signac will join me. And then the Canal du Midi: Montauban, Carcassone, Toulouse, etc., then Cette, Marseilles, Toulon and off to sea! Ah, it’s going to be really topping!” (quoted in ibid., p. 135). By the first anniversary of Seurat’s death, Van Rysselberghe and Signac were contentedly navigating the canalized Garonne east from Bordeaux.
Although Van Rysselberghe had taken three trips to Morocco early in his career, traveling overland through France and Spain and then crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, the voyage with Signac marked his first, transformational experience of the Côte d’Azur. “For anyone born in the north the Mediterranean was a revelation; just to catch sight of it was to have a glimpse of paradise,” Christopher Lloyd has written. “The climate, the vegetation, the pine woods, the brilliant light of the midday sun, the warmth, the night sky with its dome of stars—all suggested a whole new range of aesthetic possibilities governed by the wish to escape from the mounting stresses and strains of modern life and to return to a golden age” (op. cit., 2013, p. 36).
Van Rysselberghe and Signac entered the Canal du Midi at Toulouse and arrived on 14 April at the bustling Mediterranean port of Cette—the open sea at last, in all its splendor. Signac made an oil sketch of Van Rysselberghe painting on the deck of the ship, with the lighthouse of Cette and the adjacent Fort Saint-Pierre in the distance (Cachin, no. 224). Van Rysselberghe talked of painting a portrait of Signac at this time too—“on board the Olympia, using lots of cobalt”—but did not actually undertake the canvas until a second sea voyage with his friend four years later (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Brussels, 2006, p. 136; Feltkamp, no. 1896-036). From Cette, the pair traveled some three hundred kilometers east along the coast, past Marseille and Toulon, and finally anchored in early May at idyllic Saint-Tropez, where Van Rysselberghe remained with Signac until the end of the month.
Van Rysselberghe painted three major oils in 1892 that can be associated with his epic adventure aboard the Olympia. One is a portrait of Signac’s chief mariner, a weathered Breton named Yves Priol, at the helm of the yacht (Feltkamp, no. 1892-003; Musée d’Orsay, Paris). The other two canvases are seascapes, of which the present Barques de pêche is the larger; both, it seems likely, depict scenes in the vicinity of Cette, where the Olympia may have remained for a few days. In Port de Cette, les tartanes (no. 1892-006), Van Rysselberghe rendered the prospect south across the outer basin of the harbor, looking toward the lighthouse. Barques de pêche, by contrast, shows a view over the open ocean, with no recognizable landmarks in sight. A related oil sketch, fortuitously, is labeled “Cette” on the reverse (no. 1892-017), allowing us plausibly to connect the present canvas—Van Rysselberghe’s definitive statement of the composition—with that locale as well.
Both Barques de pêche and Port de Cette depict tartanes, a small ship with a single mast and triangular lateen sail, which were used in the Mediterranean for fishing and coastal trading until the late nineteenth century. In Port de Cette, Van Rysselberghe portrayed these distinctive craft within the context of a working commercial harbor. In the present painting, by contrast, he stripped the motif of anecdotal content, moving beyond strictly representational imagery to probe enduring questions and states of mind. The vastness of the sea, which here occupies the preponderance of the canvas, contrasts with the diminutive scale of the boats to evoke the frailty of human existence. The band of pink at the base of the sky hints at the passage of time, suggesting an awareness of transience. The speed of the boats, however, their sails billowing in the stiff wind, generates an impression of liberation and release, while the sheer number of craft—22 in all—lends the composition a lively sociability that signals a fundamental optimism about the human experience.
Barques de pêche was one of five paintings that Van Rysselberghe contributed in 1893 to the tenth and final annual exhibition of Les XX in Brussels. The canvas was subsequently acquired by the family of the virtuoso violinist Irma Saenger-Sèthe, who formed part of the artist’s avant-garde cultural milieu. Van Rysselberghe had earlier painted Irma’s two older sisters, Alice and Maria, both of whom married artists in the circle of Les XX, Paul Du Bois and Henry van de Velde (Feltkamp, nos. 1888-005 and 1891-001; Musée départmental du Prieuré, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp). In 1894, Van Rysselberghe made a life-sized portrait of Irma herself, depicting the sitter playing her violin (no. 1894-007; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva). Perhaps this artistically minded family was drawn to Barques de pêche for its allusively musical quality—the sails in the painting punctuating the plane of the water like notes in a melody, their smaller arcs extended in the large curves of the waves like the elaboration or reverberation of a theme.
Barques de pêche is surrounded by a wooden liner painted with divisionist dots, in darker tones that contrast with the adjacent hues of the canvas. Seurat pioneered the use of an interior polychrome liner of this sort for Les Poseuses in 1887 and the next year began painting borders of complementary colors directly onto his canvases. Van Rysselberghe, likewise, experimented with both types of framing element as a means of amplifying the color harmonies of his compositions. Although the liner of Barques de pêche has been erroneously attributed in the past to Henry van de Velde, recent technical analysis has conclusively demonstrated that Van Rysselberghe painted the liner himself, concurrently with the canvas, using the same distinctive set of pigments for both.

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