Jean Brusselmans at the Gemeente Museum, The Hague

The Belgian painter Jean Brusselmans (1884-1953) is perhaps less known than his fellow painter, Rik Wouters, with whom he shared a studio. Having entered the prestigious Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, aged only thirteen to study engraving and lithography, he dropped out to share a studio with Rik Wouters. Working along Wouters cannot have been easy – Wouters, who died young, was by far the stronger artist, with a bold colourful style at times not a million miles removed from Degas and Renoir. Brusselmans too followed along those lines. But from the 1920s onwards he went in search of structure, both in his lines as well as in applying the paint, in bold horizontal and almost naïve, simplistic ways – the clouds begin to look as if made of wood, the canvas is boldly sectioned. His paintings of a maid scrubbing floors or those of farm workers show real empathy as he depicted them in the harsh, somber Belgian autumns and winters, but much of his work is fresh and brightly coloured, as in the harvest scene.

As all painters of his time, he was searching for a new way of making pictures, a simpler style – abstraction, cubism, he tried them all. Wouters resolutely pursued his very own style, Brusselmans seems to have got distracted; he was overshadowed by his fellow fauvists and expressionists, the latter with whom he did not want to be mentioned in one breath. As a result he remained virtually unknown until the 1930s. I found echoes of Rousseau, Leger and Picasso in the way he painted some faces. He even attempted a work strongly reminiscent of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.  Giacometti haunts the portraits of his wife whom he repeatedly painted in the same black and white checked dress. Was he so fond of the dress or of his wife, I wondered. She died in 1945; it was said he was distraught, but quickly seems to have found consolation with a new, younger lover in the same year…. His best known painting is the one of the zookeeper feeding parrots which comes very close to Rik Wouters style, but I prefer his work showing everyday life and portraits simply executed.

This is very well conceived exhibition with ample explanations along the way to show the work of a quiet artist who was, for a long time, eclipsed by the showmanship of his contemporaries.    Astrid Burchardt    12th April 2018


The exhibition runs until 10th June 2018