(Saint-Gilles 1889 - 1927 Algiers)


Woman from the Borinage

Signed and dated upper left 1923/ WALTER/ SAUER

Mixed media and silver leaf on paper

14 5/16 x 21 3/16 inches (36.4 x 53.8 cm)

Walter Sauer reached the pinnacle of his career in 1923 when he received international acclaim for a solo exhibition organized by the renowned Cercle Artistique et Litttéraire. Founded in 1847, the Cercle was an association for creatives and intellectuals who wished to convene in the spirit of literature, science and art. Beginning in 1881 the board of the club moved to establish a regular rotation of exhibitions, giving new artists the opportunity to show their work publicly at the Waux-Hall headquarters located in the scenic Parc du Bruxelles. Until the opening of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in 1928, this was by far the most important creative venue in all of Brussels, drawing great masses of visitors and the potential for widespread renown. Sauer’s display of eighty-two works was so well-received that it earned a visit from Queen Elizabeth as well as the patronage of several private collectors, most notably Adolphe Stoclet, famed Wiener Werkstätte commissioner of the colossal Palais Stoclet. After his achievement at Waux-Hall Sauer was invited to exhibit more frequently at museums and institutions throughout Europe and was chosen to represent Belgium at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Sadly, his success was short-lived, as the artist fell ill and died just four years later while conducting research in Algiers for a Belgian commission.

This mesmerizing work, Woman from the Borinage, was included in Sauer’s exhibition at Waux-Hall, however the artist’s interest in the Borinage region began years earlier when he visited his uncle in the Hainaut province. In 1918 Sauer briefly lived in this coal mining center of the sillon industriel, the industrial backbone of Belgium and its surrounding countries. Though the mines were active as early as the 18th century, in 1822 production more than doubled and the coal output from the region alone exceeded that of both France and Germany. The destitute coal mining families of the Borinage lived in unimaginable conditions, plagued by poverty and starvation despite endless hours of dangerous work. Before Sauer’s time, the tragic existence of the Borains made an impact on another young artist. In his late twenties Vincent van Gogh lived in the Borinage for a brief time as a preacher, shortly thereafter suffering a breakdown that led to his return to the Netherlands and ultimately the resolution to be an artist. Van Gogh’s early masterwork The Potato Eaters of 1885 was undoubtedly influenced by the devastating quality of life he had experienced during his time in Belgium.

Walter Sauer began experimenting with various methods of applying gold and silver leaf to his drawings as early as 1920. The current work exemplifies the artist’s mastery of the mixed media technique, demonstrated by the seamless transitions between the edges of the waxed figure drawing and the oxidized silver leaf background. Woman from the Borinage represents a culmination of Sauer’s diverse influences, combining Japanese print techniques, psychological subject matter associated with the Symbolist movement, and the emerging Art Deco style. This drawing also epitomizes Sauer’s lifelong fascination with the female form and psyche, and more importantly his exceptional ability to capture both within a subjective portrait.