Théo van RYSSELBERGHE
(Ghent 1862 - Saint-Clair 1926)
Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Élisabeth Van Rysselberghe
Signed with the artist’s monogram and dated 7 août 96 VR in blue chalk at the upper right.
563 x 380 mm. (22 1/8 x 15 in.)
A few years after this portrait was drawn, when Élisabeth Van Rysselberghe was nine years old, her parents met the writer André Gide, who was to become close to both Théo and his wife Maria. Gide and Théo exchanged countless letters over many years, while the artist’s wife Maria kept a journal-cum-diary of Gide’s life, unbeknownst to him, for over thirty years. Their daughter Élisabeth was to have an affair with Gide, who was twenty-one years her senior, and had a daughter by him in 1923. As her mother Maria Van Rysselberghe noted of Élisabeth, ‘She was as if subjugated by Gide, attracted by a force to which, no doubt, she gave no name and which would later flourish.’ Élisabeth raised their child on her own, causing something of a scandal at the time, since she also refused to divulge the identity of the girl’s father, even to close relatives. Although Gide was devoted to both Élisabeth and his daughter, he too kept his paternity a secret from almost everyone he knew. Élisabeth eventually married the writer Pierre Herbart, Gide’s secretary, in 1931.
The present sheet remained in the sitter’s family for over a century, until 2006. After Elisabeth’s death in 1980 it passed to her illegitimate daughter with André Gide, Catherine Elisabeth Van Rysselberghe Gide (1923-2013), who had only discovered the identity of her true father when she was thirteen years old.
A pivotal moment in Van Rysselberghe’s development as an artist came in 1886, at the eighth impressionist exhibition in Paris, where he encountered Georges Seurat’s monumental pointillist canvas A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, painted between 1884 and 1886. This led Van Rysselberghe to experiment with the pointillist technique; and from 1886 onwards he was working in a Neo-Impressionist manner, becoming one of the leading exponents of pointillism in Belgium. In 1897 Van Rysselberghe left Brussels for Paris, where he worked on the anarchist journal Le Temps nouveaux, alongside other artists including Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce, Camille Pissarro and Kees Van Dongen. Regarded as the finest portrait painter among the Neo-Impressionists, he continued working in a pointillist manner until around 1907. Among his most significant later commissions was for an enormous painting to decorate a stair landing in the Hôtel Solvay on the Avenue Louise in Brussels, commissioned by the architect Victor Horta and completed and installed in 1902. A frequent visitor to the South of France, Van Rysselberghe settled permanently at Saint-Clair, near Le Lavandou, in 1911.
By descent to the sitter, Élisabeth Van Rysselberghe, Brussels
Thence by descent to her illegitimate daughter, Catherine Elisabeth Van Rysselberghe (Gide), Switzerland
Private collection, Paris
Anonymous sale, Paris, Christie’s, 1 December 2006, lot 7