Exhibition puts spotlight on Neo-Impressionist portraits


An exceptional collection of pointillist portraits are on show for the first time in Brussels in a new exhibition at the ING Cultural Centre

Van de Velde masterpieces on view

It is thanks to prescient American art collectors and curators that an exceptional collection of pointillist portraits are on show for the first time in Brussels. After the Second World War, they bought works by a group of highly influential, yet neglected, Belgian artists.

It was Georges Seurat’s famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the island of la Grande Jatte” that launched the style known as pointillism or, as the French artist preferred, divisionism. After exhibiting the work in Paris in 1886, Belgian contemporaries invited him to show it in Brussels the following year.

An enthusiastic reception gave birth to the Neo-Impressionist movement in France and Belgium. The latter included the artists Henry Van de Velde, Georges Lemmen, George Morren and Théo Van Rysselberghe, bringing an unusual intimacy and depth of light to their work.

Seurat’s iconic painting rarely moves from its Chicago home, but To the Point reveals its influence. It begins with paintings from the French school: lesser-known names are a revelation, such as Achille Laugé. His monumental “Devant la fenêtre 1899”, proves how individualistic each artist could be within the movement.

Belgian artists follow and take centre stage. Although Antwerpenaar Van de Velde would eventually abandon painting for applied arts and architecture, his five masterpieces here are innovative with their Symbolist undertones. Three magnificent portraits of the Sèthe sisters by Van Rysselberghe, meanwhile, explain why the Ghent artist was the leader of the Belgian school (pictured).

As a sub-division of the larger Post-Impressionist movement, Neo-Impressionist artists renounced the open-air light used by their impressionist predecessors. Instead, they sought to create luminosity by painstakingly applying brushstrokes of primary colours, which form an optical mix in the eye of the viewer. But the pursuit was laborious, and slowly each artist abandoned the technique. Their legacy nevertheless shaped early 20th-century art. 
Until 18 May at ING Cultural Centre, Brussels