Théo van Rysselberghe, Portrait of Marguerite van Mons, 1886
35.43 x 27.76 in.
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) was a Belgian painter who was an important figure in the development of art at the turn of the century. Van Rysselberghe studied at the Academy of Ghent and then at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Traveling extensively in Spain and Morocco, many of his early works are Orientalist in both theme and style. However he quickly moved away from Orientalism and toward Impressionism. In this period he shows the influence of Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Van Gogh, among others. When he embraced Pointillism, van Rysselberghe developed his own style of Neo-Impressionism. He painted landscapes that varied wildly in form and content, as well as some very interesting portraits. Marguerite van Mons was the daughter of a friend of van Rysselberghe, and was ten years old when he painted her in June of 1886. He had already painted her older sister, Camille. As with a number of paintings I have discussed recently, one of the things that makes this piece so interesting is its unusual use of space. Young Marguerite is shown standing in front of a door, which serves as a completely flat background. Portraits without a dynamic background were not uncommon, but to use an architectural feature of the girl's home is unusual without that active element, such as an open door or a complete room. Van Rysselberghe did include the elaborate decoration on the door for visual interest, but spatially the scene appears very limited. However the flat backdrop foregrounds the subject quite intensely. Marguerite becomes t he complete point of interest. She is not in the middle of the canvas and she wears a simple black dress, but her complex and mysterious gaze gives the painting a powerful impact. She appears inquisitive and knowledgable, a very intelligent girl who observes the world around her. With her hand on the door handle, it looks as though van Rysselberghe has surprised the girl, caught her in the act of leaving the room. However as she looks out at him, she appears thoroughly aware of the painter and what he is doing, and she has caught him as well.