Valerius de Saedeleer was one of the artists who, in the period from 1898 to 1914, were the first to settle in the rural village of Sint-Martens-Latem in the surroundings of the river Leie. Together with this particular group of artists, also referred to as the First Group of Sint-Martens-Latem (Albijn van den Abeele, Georges Minne, Gustave van de Woestijne and Albert Servaes), De Saedeleer reacted artsitically to the dominating impressionism and plain-airism within Belgian painting of around 1900. Influenced by the revaluation of the painters of the Flemish Primitive school it was his ambition to realise a more intimate, idealizing and spiritualizing sort of painting of synthesis and pure forms.
De Saedeleer's choice to move to Sint-Martens-Latem in 1898 also signified a break with his past of experiment, licentiousness and poverty. Next to his career as a painter he tried his luck in doomed failures like a grocery shop and a poultry farm. Once settled in the Leie-area he quieted down, both as a painter and a human being, or, as he once stated about the village: "Latem, were the storms of my youth died down".
Between 1900 and 1903 De Saedeleer transformed his artistic vision and technical design drastically. Paul Haesaerts supported in 1964 the underlying reasons for this transformation: "The weariness of an eventful existance, the aversion he felt for the life of the bohemien he led, always misunderstood and being in a wax, the literature of the smooth and calming Guido Gezelle, the dreamy work of Georges Minne, the humble labour of Binus van den Abeele, the hidden and accurate work of Karel van de Woestijne, the contact he had with mystical writers like Ruusbroec de Wonderbare and sister Hadewych, the acquaintance with the canvases by Mnard in Paris and the visit to the exhibition of the Flemish Primitives in Bruges, the admiration of the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the continuing association with the simple farmers and finally the untouched and marvellously calming nature of Latem" (P. Hasaerts, Sint-Martens-Lathem. Gezegend oord van de Vlaamse Kunst, Antwerp 1982).
The above transformation marked the beginning of the famous river and (winter)landscape panoramas on large canvases, almost instantly followed by national and international recognition, resulting in exhibitions and mainly positive press reviews. His work was admired above all for the qualities of its contents, regarding the characterizations one can frequently find in contemporary descriptions, in which one speaks in terms of solemn, conscientious, dreamy, composure, oppression, atmosphere etcetera. Already in 1906 collaegue-painter Karel van de Woestijne described the works of De Saedeleer as follows:"...loyalty to his own feelings, honesty to his own observation by means of the deeper laying eye of his heart (...), modesty therefore, me-art (...), noble and very true subjectivism, giving nature a different meaning than we know".
Still, for De Saedeleer himself composition and the construction of the image were the central themes within his art. He worked slowly and with scrupulous care on his canvases, as becomes clear in an interview he gave just before he died: "Painting was always a great strain to me. I had to have a clear image of the compostion first before capturing it in detailed drawings, reworking and changing them over and over again untill they satisfied my wishes completely. Only then I thought of colour". After finding a suitable subject in nature he frequented the spot several times to make sketches:"On the spot I executed seperate studies, colour-mosaics really, usually not related to the subject at all. These documents served to help me with the final production of the painting, to which I could spend months. Some of my larger canvases took two years of labour".
The ultimate goal of the above procedure was the rendering of what the artist called 'the character': "Once you are struck by a motif it has to be very clear to you why. What is important is to see, being all eyes, to analyse the tension of that glorious moment and to hold on to it. This understanding what you observe can take place in several ways. The character! Capturing it should always be the main purpose..."
The technical perfection De Saedeleer pursued, his search for a balanced composition, his knowledge of the overwhelming nature of the surroundings of the Leie and the stilistic influences of Pieter Bruegel the Elder all come together in the present lot, Une route dans la plaine en hiver (cf.lit. exh.cat. Brussels, Muse Royaux des Beaux-Arts, De eerste groep van Sint-Martens-Latem 1899-1914, 18 October-31 December 1988, pp. 73-85).
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonn on the artist's work, currently being prepared by the Belgian Art Research Institute.