From the museum press release, 18 May 2010
From 27 March until 27 June 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent will be organizing a retrospective of the work of Gustave Van de Woestyne (1881-1947), one of the most original personalities in Belgian art history. The project ties in with the museum’s collection and exhibition policy, which focuses, among others, on Belgian art of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. The emphasis is especially on the output of the Symbolist and Expressionist movements during this period.
Gustave Van de Woestyne has been commemorated only once with an exhibition in his native city of Ghent, which was organized in the Museum of Fine Arts in 1949, two years after the artist’s death. In a more recent past, the museum also integrated Van de Woestyne’s work in its exhibitions, as was the case in Veertig kunstenaars rond Karel Van de Woestijne (1979), Vlaams expressionisme in Europese context (1990), De collectie De Graaff-Bachiene (1992), Een zeldzame weelde (2001) and Kunst in ballingschap (2002). Next to this, the Ghent museum’s collection also includes an important and varied selection of his works.
In 1900, Gustave Van de Woestyne and his older brother, Karel Van de Woestijne – a poet and prose writer as well as an art historian – moved to Sint-Martens-Latem, a rural village on the banks of the River Lys, near Ghent. They joined a group of artists there, made up of Valerius De Saedeleer, Albijn Van den Abeele and George Minne. Together they are generally known as the first Latem group. It was in this company that Van de Woestyne developed, both intellectually and artistically. Van de Woestyne and his artist friends had in common an interest in rural life – removed from industrialized society -, a sense of contemplation and piety as well as admiration for the Flemish and Italian primitives. During this Latem period, he painted candid representations of life in the country, biblical scenes and sensitive portraits of village figures, family members and friends. In 1909 Van de Woestyne left Sint-Martens-Latem. He moved to Leuven, Etterbeek and Tiegem successively, without really forgetting about Latem entirely. From a thematic and stylistic point of view, his memories of the Leie village continued to colour his work. During this period Van de Woestyne was much in demand as a portrait painter.
During the First World War, Van de Woestyne and his family lived in various locations in Great Britain. There he painted a number of allegories of the war situation and was very active as a portrait painter. On his return in Belgium, from 1919 onwards, the artist worked in the spirit of the Modernist movement. He arrived at his own personal compromise between Expressionism and Cubism, characterized by an interest in the primitives’ visual language. His work retained a meditative element, full of symbolism, and at times, alienation. Van de Woestyne’s brush technique was determined by a marked sense of synthesis, preferring to simplify shapes to the extreme and even resorting to deformation. As a result, his work in this post-war period is related to neo-Realism and the Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany.
The museum’s ambition is to highlight Gustave van de Woestyne as extensively and scientifically as possible in this exhibition. The artist will be represented with an exceptional selection of representative works, including paintings, drawings and graphic design. His artistic development will be showcased chronologically, focussing on a number of themes, including portraits, religious paintings and still-lifes.