Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 64 x 54 cm
Signed: top right: Rassenfosse. 1921.
the Amédee Glesener collection.
XII esposizione Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 1922, no.438; Tribute to Rassenfosse, the Museum of the Stavelot Abbey, Belgium, 1975; Rassenfosse, a Retrospective, organised by the Centre d’action culturelle de la communauté d’expression française, Woluwe-St-Lambert, Belgium, 1983, catalogue no.60.
Rassenfosse was a largely self-taught graphic artist and painter. Born in Liège, his family owned a decorative arts gallery which they decided early in their son’s life he should inherit. However dutiful his intentions, at the age of twenty eight the young Rassenfosse, who had for years been submitting work to his fellow artists and publications successfully under a pseudonym, decided to leave business and devote himself full-time to his art. August Bénard ran a successful print house in Liège, the graphics for which Rassenfosse provided enabled him to make a modest living before moving to Paris to work under Jules Chéret, a lithographer, at the Chaix printing works there. Rassenfosse exhibited in the third salon of La Libre Esthetique in Brussels and illustrated the supplement to the 1895 catalogue of Felicien Rop’s engravings. The artist undertook a major commission to illustrate Charles Baudelaire’s poems Les Fleurs du Mal, for which he created 160 color etchings; the book was published in an edition of only 130 copies.
The death of Rassenfosse’s son in 1913 and the traumas of World War I caused a crisis for the artist, who after years of intermittent artistic production, in response to the tragedy, locked himself away for days at a time absorbed in his work. He began to experiment with oils on cardboard around this time, developing a smooth and confident technique. His paintings were almost entirely of women, mainly of nudes in intimate settings. He was fascinated by the sorrows and beauty of the hiercheuses or hongrois, the young women who worked in the coal mines near Liège. The women seen here is such an example, dressing for an evening out or primping in the mirror for a special occasion or visitor.
Rassenfosse had received numerous honors by the end of his career, including Commander of the Order of Leopold and a bronze bust of Rassenfosse, by his friend Pierre-Félix Masseau, can be seen in the Parc de la Boverie.
Rassenfosse has often been considered a follower of Felicien Rops by art historians, perhaps unfairly. Whilst Rops portrayed courtesans and sexually explicit fantasies, Rassenfosse, certainly in his mature work, depicted the daughters of a working people he knew first-hand. The women in his subdued nudes possess an inborn-elegance and are surrounded by items from their often meagre lives. Rassenfosse found beauty in these womens’ simplicity and naturalness. If they are desirable, they are not Rops’s objects of desire, but a more truthful depiction of women.