2 More

L'île du Levant vue du Cap Bénat, Provence

L'île du Levant vue du Cap Bénat, Provence
signed with the monogram 'VR' (lower right)
oil on canvas
17 7⁄8 x 25 5⁄8 in. (45.3 x 65 cm.)
Painted circa 1893
Ludwig Wilhelm Gutbier, Dresden, Munich & Rottach-Egern.
Ella Gutbier, Dresden, Munich & Rottach-Egern, by descent from the above.
Anonymous sale, Neumeister, Munich, 15 September 1983, lot 1239 (titled 'Meeresküste').
Anonymous sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 6 December 1983, lot 24.
Walter F. Brown, San Antonio, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1987, lot 36.
Pascal de Sarthe Gallery, San Francisco.
Private collection, New York; sale, Christie's, New York, 14 November 1990, lot 4.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
R. Feltkamp, Théo Van Rysselberghe catalogue raisonné, Brussels, 2003, no. 1893-016, pp. 73 & 299 (illustrated; titled 'L'île du Levant vue du cap Benat, Bretagne').
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Théo Van Rysselberghe, néo-impressioniste, March - June 1993, no. 43, p. 104 (illustrated; dated circa '1892-1893').
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Théo van Rysselberghe, February - May 2006, pp. 167 & 257 (illustrated pp. 166 & 167; titled 'Île du Levant depuis le Cap Bénat (Bormes-les-Mimosas)' and dated 'circa 1896'); this exhibition later travelled to the Hague, Kunstmuseum, June - September 2006.
Further Details
This work will be included in the forthcoming van Rysselberghe catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared by Olivier Bertrand.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Painted circa 1893, L’île du Levant, vue du Cap Bénat, Provence dates from the very height of Théo van Rysselberghe’s passionate engagement with Pointillism, the revolutionary technique pioneered by the Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat. Van Rysselberghe’s first encounter with this new avant-garde idiom had come in 1886, when he travelled 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 Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte (1884; The Art Institute of Chicago) was the succès de scandale of the exhibition, and the young Van Rysselberghe and his traveling companion, the poet Emile Verhaeren, were captivated by the composition. As Verhaeren later explained, Seurat’s masterpiece ‘asked me to forget all colour and spoke to me only of light’ (quoted in M. Ferretti Bocquillon, ‘Signac and Van Rysselberghe: The Story of a Friendship, 1887-1907’ in Apollo, no. 436, June, 1998, p. 11).

The pair met with Seurat and arranged for the artist to exhibit the canvas the following 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 quickly embraced and absorbed the central tenets of the Pointillist style, and began painting in a Divisionist manner in 1888, swiftly becoming one of the movement’s foremost apostles. ‘Like you, I am more convinced than ever of the excellence of our technique,’ he wrote to Paul Signac in 1892. ‘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).

In L’île du Levant, vue du Cap Bénat, Provence Van Rysselberghe focuses on a view of the Île du Levant, seen from the cliffs at Cap Bénat, near Toulon in the South of France. The artist most likely encountered this scene on the seminal two-month sailing trip he embarked upon with his close friend Signac, in the spring and early summer of 1892, which came on the heels of a difficult year for the Divisionist circle. 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 a month later.

Thus, when Van Rysselberghe and Signac embarked on their journey to the Midi at the end of March, they were seeking some much needed respite from the stresses and strains of the art world. Travelling aboard Signac’s sleek, eleven-metre cutter, the Olympia, built only the year before and named for Manet’s foundational modern painting, the two artists set out in search of the sun, fresh air and new motifs for their work. ‘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). During the course of this revelatory journey, Signac and Van Rysselberghe stopped to visit their Pointillist colleague Henri-Edmond Cross, who had relocated to the Midi the previous year and was living in Cabasson. They arrived at Le Lavandou in early May, and from there, it was only a short trip to nearby Cap Bénat.

In the present composition, Van Rysselberghe positions himself on the edge of the promontory near a small dwelling, adopting a high view point that looks out over the calm, cerulean waters of the Mediterranean Sea. A group of boats with broad white sails drift westwards past the artist, the brisk sea breeze driving the vessels through the water past the île du Levant. Cross had painted a slightly different view of the same location the year before, standing at the water’s edge on a sandy beach rather than atop the bluff, the rippling surface of the sea filling his canvas with a vivid play of subtly modulated points of colour, stretching upwards towards the îles d’Hyères in the distance (Les îles d’Or, circa 1891-1892; Musée d’Orsay, Paris). While Cross may have suggested the site to Van Rysselberghe during his visit, the artist appears to have not completed the composition for several months after his return to Belgium, a testament to the painstaking and time consuming nature of the Pointillist technique.

In L’île du Levant, vue du Cap Bénat, Provence Van Rysselberghe organises the view in to separate planes of water, land and sky, which stretch out before the viewer in a successive series of bands, each portion of the canvas described through meticulous points of pigment. The painting is suffused by the bright, warm light of the Midi, with the artist employing a wide range of vibrant hues to capture the sun-drenched landscape. In the foreground, for example, the foliage becomes a dancing play of bright yellows, emerald greens, indigos, oranges, lilacs and fuchsias, some of which are echoed in the vast expanse of the sea below. The sky, meanwhile, is a more nuanced arrangement of tones, gradually lightening from concentrated passages of blue, to a more intricate pattern of white and silvery gold towards the left hand side of the canvas.

At the same time, L’île du Levant, vue du Cap Bénat, Provence showcases Van Rysselberghe’s evolving approach to Pointillism at this time, as he departed from the precise, controlled layering of uniform dots that marked Seurat’s technique and began to experiment with the size, shape and orientation of his points of pigment. Here, he uses slightly elongated points of colour to describe the view, the dashes of paint appearing to change direction in different parts of the canvas. This is most notable in the vertical brushwork Van Rysselberghe employs in the vegetation in the foreground, the quick staccato strokes delineating the grasses and foliage offering a subtle contrast to the more rhythmic, horizontal brushwork visible in the sea, which creates the suggestion of the tides and movement of the water beneath the gently rippling surface. For Van Rysselberghe, each touch of paint was painstakingly considered for how it would impact the image, and the delicate gradation of the sky and subtle arrangement and interlacing of these tones showcases the refined sensitivity of his eye, the surface of the canvas almost vibrating with the myriad touches of pigment that together coalesce to create a luminous vision of this stretch of the coast.

More from 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All