(Saint-Josse-ten-Noode 1874 - 1945 Brussels)


La Toilette

Signed and dated lower left Firmin Baes/ 1914

Pastel on paper laid down to canvas

38 5/8 x 41 3/4 inches

Private collection, Belgium.

This exquisite large-scale interior by Firmin Baes epitomizes the artist’s impressive mastery of the pastel. Early in his career Baes exhibited works in charcoal and oil paint, then around 1900 he chose to focus more closely on pastels, creating beautifully naturalistic and highly finished works. His portraits were greatly sought after, and he sold more than 200 to collectors throughout his lifetime. In addition to portraiture Baes also excelled at landscape painting, religious subjects, and particularly still life compositions, for which he drew comparisons to the virtuosic 18th century masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. He is a renowned pastellist, continually praised for his technical facility, sense of composition, and delicate use of color.

The intimate and softly lit La Toilette is reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-1675) genre scenes in which he invites the viewer to behold a quiet and private scene from everyday life. Vermeer’s reputation faded after his death, most likely due to the small amount of work he left behind. The master painter was “rediscovered” in the 19th century and his oeuvre received international attention after the publishing of Théophile Thoré-Bürger’s catalogue raissoné in 1886. Baes’ depiction of a woman tying her bonnet emulates the camera obscura-like effects that characterize Vermeer’s interiors. Her face is illuminated in the mirror with a light from overhead, creating dramatic contrast and shadows throughout the composition, notably on her cape and in the folds of the cloth placed on the vanity. Like Vermeer, Baes creates visual harmony using a limited color palette, and uses white touches to exaggerate where the light hits reflective surfaces.  

Son of the artist and architect Henri Baes, Firmin Baes started painting at a young age. He began his training at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1888, where he studied under the Symbolist Léon Frédéric (1856-1940) until 1894. That year he joined La Patte de Dindon, an artists’ group in which he met and shared studio space with Emile Fabry and Constantin Meunier, among others. In 1898 Baes joined the Belgian artists’ association Pour l’Art and exhibited work with them almost every year for the remainder of his career. He was an extremely disciplined painter and was known to strictly designate the first half of his days to portrait and figure painting, while landscapes, interiors and still life works were left for the afternoon and evening. This routine resulted in a body of work exceeding 1,300 pictures. Baes was awarded the Order of the Crown in 1923 and later the Order of Academic Palms in 1930.