Tag Archives: Belgian painter

Petrus van Schendel – Reading by Candlelight

9 Dec

Petrus van Schendel, Reading by Candlelight, date unknown, c. 1840s-50s

I recently rediscovered the wonderful paintings of a Dutch-Belgian painter Petrus van Schendel. I say rediscovered because I remember seeing some of them before, and forgetting about them, but now my eye was truly ready to take in all their beauty and magic. Van Schendel specialised in nocturnal scenes lit by candles or lamps. A daylight scene wouldn’t provide him with an opportunity to paint such mesmerising effect of the candlelight, and in Van Schendel’s paintings the beauty of light is truly mesmerising. I really love his painting “Reading by Candlelight” painted c. 1840s or 1850s. The clear date isn’t given, by the lady’s hairstyle gives the time period away. The painting is a simple genre scene of a young girl reading a book at nighttime. The light of a single candle lightens the room and illuminates the space around her while the rest of the chamber descends into darkness. You can just feel the warmth and the coziness of that room.

The girl is seen from the profile and her face shows calmness, she doesn’t even know she is being watched. The way her head is painted and her clothes remind me of the girls from Vermeer’s, or even better Geritt ter Borch’s paintings, who are shown reading or writing a letter. But in those paintings the cold light of a grey day is falling on the girls, while here we have the light of a candle which colours this simple genre scene in warmth, dreaminess and mystery. Night is always more mysterious than day, and in the light of the flickering candle, which may extinguish at any moment, the contours of things fade away and things may seem different than they are, more enchanting or eerie. The vase full of vibrant flowers on the girl’s table is very pretty in shape and I love the detail of its shadow falling behind.

And another interesting thing is the faint, barely noticeable portrait of a bearded man on the wall above. Who is he? Her father, or perhaps old ancestor who had died. Regardless, his ghostly face is keeping an eye on the girl like a stern, yet protective father-figure. The whole scene oozes intimacy and warmth, as if we are watching into a private world of this girl without her even knowing it. The beauty of the candlelight as the main focus of the scene naturally brings to mind the French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour who is very famous for his chiaroscuro scenes where the candle is the only source of light. We are spoiled for light today and it is easy to forget just how precious the light was in the past ages when you couldn’t just press a light switch; when a candle burns out, the darkness rules again until the dawn’s faint light comes again.

Frans Masereel – Streetlights, Paris in the evening

22 Nov

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

(Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart)

Frans Masereel (Belgian, 1889-1972), Streetlights, Paris in the evening, 1939

Belgian painter Frans Masereel’s painting “Streetlights, Paris in the Evening” really captivated me these days. I just love it so much! The mood is so dark and strange and so fitting for these dreary late autumnal November days. The more I gaze at this painting, the more I am sinking in this atmosphere of isolation and gloom which are so alluring. The buildings, so tall and so dark, with countless soulless little windows, appear threatening and cold. They don’t look inviting and friendly, they look like big ghostly figures ready to swallow up the tiny figure of a man in a red shirt. The sharp, vertical lines serve the same purpose as in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings of Berlin streets; to create a sense of anxiety and looming threat. The light of the street lamps colours the pavement in warm yellow hues. The clouds, painted in dark blues and greys, look so robust and strong as if they could crush down the buildings underneath them. It seems the painter took great deal of time to paint the sky and it certainly adds to the mood of the painting. The sky in the distance is tinged with orange. Patches of red, yellow and blue on the otherwise drab facades give me goosebumps of joy because they break the icy coldness of the buildings’ appearance. Can you feel it?…. The cold, frosty breath of isolation blowing through the streets like autumnal wind. Perhaps the entire street scene is actually seen through the eyes of the man in red shirt, perhaps he is the focalizer of this painting and the reason why the street looks so alienating and empty, the buildings so threatening and gloomy, the sky heavy and dark and about to fall on him and crush him, is because he perceives the world around him that way. This is how the evening in Paris seems to this isolated small individual who is wandering the streets alone and lonely, with a mask of despair on his face and a sense of dread weighing his legs and slowing his walking pace. Every little window on every building is an abyss of darkness ready to swallow him in ….. he must hurry! Hurry before they get him.

Frans Masereel, La vespasienne sous le métro, 1926

Frans Masereel, Metro aerien (Hochbahn), 1926

To end, I decided to include these two paintings Masereel painted in 1926. I love all the bold black lines swirling and cutting the space in a very exciting way. The lines, along with the bright turquoise and yellow neon lights really create an atmosphere of a vibrant and chaotic nightlife. It’s interesting to compare the years in which the paintings were made and what was going on at the time; the roaring twenties were an exciting time and these paintings capture this excitement and glamour, and the painting above, with a very different mood, was painted in 1939; the year World War Two started.