(1865 - Brussels - 1943)
Nude at her toilette
Signed lower right Jean Gouweloos
Oil on canvas
24 x 16 1/4 inches
Private collection, Belgium.
Jean Gouweloos was one of the more prominent pupils of famed Orientalist painter Jean-François Portaels (1818-1895), whom he studied under at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels from 1886 to 1888. Originally trained in printmaking at his uncle’s press, Gouweloos began his career as a lithographer and poster designer before transitioning into painting. He was an active member in the group Voorwaarts, a collective co-founded by Constant Montald (1862-1944) in 1891 after the disbandment of the group L’Union des Arts. He went on to join Le Sillon, which succeeded Voorwaarts in 1893. Gouweloos and several young Belgian artists, most having studied at the Brussels Academy, believed there was a need to counterbalance the Symbolist and Neo-Impressionist movements that were gaining popularity at the time. Their goal was to reengage with the tradition of Flemish realist painting and apply these forgotten values to a new objective realism. Le Sillon also focused their efforts on organizing multiple exhibitions annually, creating more opportunities for its members to display new work.
Gouweloos rose to recognition around the year 1900 when he received accolades for his paintings of bathers on the north Belgian coast. In addition to seascapes he is best known for his beautifully rendered depictions of alluring women. The current painting is an exceptional example of a nude viewed from behind. This is an intimate and private scene in which the viewer observes, undetected, the woman tending to her hair in the mirror. We cannot tell if she is preparing herself to enter the public eye, or if she has disrobed at the end of her day. Gouweloos masterfully captures the soft and supple human flesh, contrasting the pink and red tonalities of her skin against the monochromatic neutral interior. We are unable to see her face, but a personal identity is suggested by the clothing and items scattered around her. The artist moves the eye dynamically around the canvas from the flower on her hanging hat, to the blue scarf on the vanity, and the garment strewn on her chair. Ultimately, it is difficult to look away from a body so beautifully painted that it seems almost tangible.