LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

 
 
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CHARLES JOSEPH WATELET (Beauraing, Belgium 1867 – Brussels 1954)

An Elegant Lady with her French Bulldog in an Interior

signed C.J. Watelet and monogrammed in the lower left

oil on canvas

65 x 54 ¾ inches         (165 x 139 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Berko Fine Paintings, Brussels, by 1998

Private Collection, Mebane City, North Carolina, until 2010

LITERATURE

Jean-Marie Duvosquel & Philippe Cruysmans, “Charles Watelet” in Dictionary of Belgian and Dutch Animal Painters Born Between 1750 and 1880, Etablissements Graphing / Grafossart, 1998, p. 530, reproduced in color

Destined by family tradition for a life in the civil service, Charles Joseph Watelet was sent to Binche in Hainaut province, Belgium to begin his career.  Life as a provincial administrator depressed Watelet.  At twenty-three he defied the family and went to Brussels to enroll in the studio of Jean François Portaels the director of the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts. [1]  Watelet’s progression was rapid and after three months Portaels sent Watelet to Paris to study with Alfred Stevens. [2]  This would prove a prodigious pairing.  Stevens, one of the foremost painters of women in the Second Empire, placed them in atmospheric settings, dressed splendidly, surrounded by luxury imbued with varying psychological moods often underlined by titles such as Parisian, Sphinx, Waiting and Despairing. [3] These works resonated deeply with Watelet and would chart his life’s course, becoming famous for his own portrayals of beautiful women. [4]

Unfortunately lack of funds soon forced the artist to move to Marcinelle, Belgium for ten years, where he established a successful practice as a portraitist among the local notables, but his reputation continued to grow in Paris.  In 1902 he began exhibiting at the Salon and the same year was awarded a second class medal, winning a gold one in 1925.  He was a member of the Sociétaire Hors Concours aux Artistes Français and a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur.  He was also able to return to Brussels by 1901 [5] and importantly take part in an exhibition in January 1902 at the Cercle Artistique et Litteraire de Bruxelles which established him among the first rank of young new painters of Belgium. [6]  His works, a mix of portraits and genre, were collected by the museums of Brussels, Liège, Ixelles, Rochefort, Saintes, Sens, Sydney, Tournai, Valenciennes and Versailles.

It was the quest to perfect the art of capturing beautiful women in paint that drove the artist to near madness. [7]  He sought his female subjects among the haunts of the rich, at balls, theaters, salons and restaurants. [8]  Painted in their homes or in the studio, clothed or nude, in varying moods, they are cocktails of sensuality.  This is particularly true of his paintings of the 1920’s.  An intoxicating decade of changing mores, Watelet’s sitters assume more naturalistic and inviting poses while clothed or draped in opulent fabrics.  Watelet remarked “A woman who comes into my studio to sit for me is a marvelous poem” [9]  It is the enchanting poetry of beauty, luxury, sensuality and mystery which combine to create the heady mix that defines our painting.  Swathed in silk, ostrich feathers, pearls and silver shoes a blonde vision of evening glamour circa 1925 is seated on a suggestively disheveled daybed covered by a satin sheet. (Silver shoes that stylistically date from about 1925 were somewhat of a touchstone for the artist.  In his prize winning entry in the Salon of 1925, Le Soir, his female sitter wears the exact same shoes as shown in this work and in Le Modele Intimide that is all she wears).  Half-smiling, her gaze directly engages the viewer.  Her left hand clutches a book that is perhaps a sketch pad.  A striking blue satin ribbon extends from her waist onto the floor drawing the viewer’s eye directly into the composition.  At her side the alert eyes of a French bulldog sporting a striking red collar further beckons the spectator.  The wood floor is so highly polished that one shoe as well as the underside of the dog’s muzzle are perfectly reflected.  The grey room and tapestried window treatments serve as a foil to the pair.  The painting is no mere portrait but a conundrum.  What has just happened or is about to occur?  Placed in an unconventional setting in a relaxed pose yet formally attired, who is this intriguing sitter and what is her relationship to the artist?  Is the dog her beloved companion or just a cover for otherwise unexplainable absences?  Or is she the triumph of all the ideals that had seduced Watelet from the start, a resplendent painted enigma never to be fully possessed yet constantly sought.

 

 

[1]  Sander Pierron, Douze Effigies d’Artistes, X. Havermans, Bruxelles, 1910, p. 19.

[2] “Charles Joseph Watelet” in Le Dictionnaire des Peintres Belges du XIVe siècle à nos jours, La Renaissance du Livre, Bruxelles, 1994, p. 1180.

[3] Willem G. Flippo, “Alfred Stevens” in Lexicon of the Belgian Romantic Painters, International Art Press, Antwerp, 1981, unpaginated.

[4] Willem G. Flippo, “Charles Watelet”, op. cit..

[5] Le Dictionnaire des Peintres Belges, op. cit., p. 1180.

[6] Sander Pierron, op. cit., p. 19.

[7] Ibid.

[8] P. & V. Berko “Charles Watelet” in Dictionary of Belgian Painters born between 1750 & 1875, Editions Laconti, Brussels, 1981, p. 787.

[9] Sander Pierron, op. cit., p. 19. 

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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