This work will be included in the forthcoming Van Rysselberghe catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Pascal de Sadeleer and Olivier Bertrand.
At the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition in 1886, when Seurat stunned the art world with his radically inventive divisionist manifesto Dimanche à la Grande Jatte, the young Belgian painter Van Rysselberghe, visiting Paris for the show, immediately apprehended the transformative importance of this new manner of painting. With its emphasis on structure and science, Seurat’s monumental canvas represented nothing less than a direct assault on the essential premises of Impressionism and heralded the arrival of a new avant-garde idiom. Van Rysselberghe and his traveling companion, the poet Emile Verhaeren, arranged to meet Seurat and invited him to exhibit La Grande Jatte the following year in Brussels with the avant-garde group Les XX, the principal vehicle for the dissemination of new artistic ideas in Belgium. Eager to spread the Neo-Impressionist gospel, Seurat accepted. Van Rysselberghe himself began painting in a divisionist manner in 1888 and soon became one of the movement’s leading apostles. “Like you I am more convinced of the excellence of our technique than ever,” Van Rysselberghe wrote to Signac in 1892, the year after Seurat’s untimely death, “and I find a real delight in it because it’s so logical and good” (quoted in M. Bocquillon, “Signac and Van Rysselberghe: The Story of a Friendship, 1887-1907,” Apollo, June 1998, p. 13).
One of the artist’s earliest divisionist seascapes, the jewel-like Près des rocs de Per-Kiridec shows Van Rysselberghe already in full mastery of Neo-Impressionist principles. The landscape is structured around the contrast of complementary blues and oranges–vivid turquoise and cobalt for the tranquil sea, peach and russett for the craggy rocks that punctuate the water and the low, undulating line of hills the articulates the horizon. Van Rysselberghe organized the composition in a sequence of parallel bands that creates a measured recession into depth, and his brushstroke is the tiny divisionist dot, which here produces the effect of morning sunlight glinting across the smooth, flat plane of the water. “It is in landscapes that Van Rysselberghe was at his boldest,” Marina Bocquillon has written, “producing pictures characterized by an almost abstract sense of color and a strict, geometric scheme. A strict application of Neo-Impressionist technique meant that Van Rysselberghe was required to use a beneficial rigor that forced him to discipline his natural verve and facility” (ibid., p. 14).
Van Rysselberghe painted Près des rocs de Per-Kiridec during his honeymoon trip to southern England and Brittany in the fall of 1889. On 16 September, he had married the Belgian poet Marie Monnom, whose mother Sylvie was the powerful head of the Monnom publishing company, which issued the two leading avant-garde Belgian periodicals, L’Art moderne and La Jeune Belgique. This landscape depicts the coastline at the Breton port of Roscoff, in the far northwestern reaches of France. The irregular mineral formations that rise from the water recall the rugged coastal scenery that Monet had painted three years earlier at Belle-Île, determined to prove Impressionism’s continued vitality in the face of the mounting Neo-Impressionist challenge. Whereas Monet’s paintings, however, depict a storm-swept and wholly inhospitable landscape, Van Rysselberghe has rendered Roscoff on an exquisite day, the sky still streaked with the last pinks of sunrise, sailboats already leisurely traversing the calm waters. The artist painted a second view of the same site, La pointe de Per-Kiridec à Roscoff, which is housed in the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo (Feltkamp, no. 1889-006).
Van Rysselberghe presented Près de rocs de Per-Kiridec as a gift to his friend Alice Bonnet, whom he had met during his extended stay in Morocco from November 1883 until October 1884. At that time, he made a pastel portrait of Alice and an oil depicting her with her brother Emile, the latter dedicated “à mes excellents amis Bonnet” (Feltkamp, nos. 1884-010 and 1884-018). The artist remained close to the family during the ensuing decades, producing a second pastel portrait of Alice in 1896 and one of her son Emile Alexis Preyre as an infant a decade later (Feltkamp, nos. 1896-023 and 1906-024). Près de rocs de Per-Kiridec remained in the Preyre family until 1989, when it passed to the present owner.