Theo van Rysselberghe

Theo van Rysselberghe

Théo van Rysselberghe was born in Ghent in 1862 and studied at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Ghent under Théo Canneel. He continued his education at the Academy in Brussels where his teacher was the Orientalist artist Jean-François Portaels, who was to have considerable influence over the direction of his early career. At the age of eighteen van Rysselberghe made his debut at the Ghent Salon. In 1881 he exhibited for the first time at the Brussels Salon where he won a travelling scholarship to Spain, which marked the beginning of more than twenty years travelling in Europe, the Near East and North Africa. In 1882, at the end of this trip, he visited Tangiers and, fascinated by the atmosphere and colour of the city, he remained there for four months.   On his return to Belgium Rysselberghe exhibited thirty paintings at the Cercle Artistique et Litéraire in Ghent, which were well received and brought van Rysselberghe’s work to the attention of both collectors and critics.


In 1883 Théo van Rysselberghe became one of the founder members of the group known as Les XX, sharing similar ideals with the Impressionists in France. Under the patronage of the lawyer and collector Octave Maus, Les XX was formed as a reaction to the strictures of academic art. James Ensor, Fernand Knopff, Félicien Rops, Auguste Rodin and Paul Signac were all members.

Van Rysselberghe became an important ambassador for the group and in 1886 travelled to Paris where he met the Impressionists and invited Renoir and Monet to exhibit in Belgium.


Van Rysselberghe’s visits to Paris and association with the Impressionists had a profound effect on his work and he began to produce works that were wholly Impressionist in nature. He was also deeply impressed by the work of the Neo-Impressionists and in particular Georges Seurat, whom he invited to join Les XX in 1887. He completely abandoned Realism and began to employ the theories of Pointillism, whilst still retaining his artistic ties with the Impressionists.   Throughout this period he painted exceptional, highly worked portraits, landscape and seascapes using a palette of gentle pastel shades of blues, pinks and greens and generally employing short, curved brushstrokes rather than the staccato dots seen in the work of Seurat and Signac. He continued to travel and promote Les XX whilst at the same time extending his circle of friends. In 1889 van Rysselberghe invited Vincent van Gogh to participate in that year’s exhibition, where van Gogh sold Vigne rouge à Montmajour (Pushkin Museum, Moscow), the only firmly recorded painting to be sold in the artist’s lifetime.


In 1897 van Rysselberghe settled in Paris where he became a regular contributor to the periodical Temps Nouveau. He was also commissioned to produce posters for the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits and as a result travelled across Europe, visiting Greece, Romania and Russia. During this time he met Pablo Picasso, although he was unimpressed by his work and advised Octave Maus not to purchase his paintings. Rysselberghe also worked in the decorative arts, designing furniture and jewellery and in 1902 painting a mural for Victor Horta’s Hôtel Solvay House in Brussels.


By 1903 van Rysselberghe had almost entirely abandoned the Pointillist technique; his brushstrokes became larger and more relaxed and, under the influence of the Fauves, he developed a stronger, more powerful palette. A visit to the South of France with Henri-Edmond Cross also had a deep and lasting effect on van Rysselberghe’s oeuvre: he became completely absorbed by the heat and light of the Mediterranean and devoted the rest of his career to painting sunlit landscapes and seascapes of the Côte d’Azur. He was often a guest at Signac’s house in Saint-Tropez. Van Rysselberghe built a house at Saint-Clair, near Le Lavandou, in 1911 where he lived until his death in 1926.

The work of Théo van Rysselberghe is represented in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent; the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels; the Musée de Grenoble; the Kröller-Muller Museum, Otterlo; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery, London.