CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Vrouwenportretten: Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930) en collectie Mayer van den Bergh

Images of woman: Eugeen Van Mieghem and Museum Mayer van den Bergh Exhibition: 27 October 2007 - 27 January 2008

From the website of the Rembrandt House, Amsterdam

The Antwerp-born artist Eugeen van Mieghem (1875-1930) was a member of the Belgian avant-garde around 1900. He grew up in the old port of Antwerp, where his mother ran a bar, and the everyday life of the docks became the most important theme in his work. He captured the toiling men and women, the shabby emigrants, the whores, the vagrants and other street figures in hundreds of drawings, prints and paintings.

Contemporaries called Van Mieghem the ‘artist of the people’. Politically he was attracted to the socialist and anarchist movements of the day. In 1904 he was one of the artists who contributed to an exhibition mounted to pay tribute to the Frisian socialist and anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, and in July of that year he went to Amsterdam for the ceremonies in Nieuwenhuis’s honour. While he was in the Netherlands he saw Rembrandt’s paintings, etchings and drawings, and was deeply moved by them.

During his time at the Antwerp Academy, where he studied for several years, Van Mieghem met Augustine Pautre, the woman who was to become his wife. She was a painter, too, but she gave it up after their marriage in 1902 and the birth of their son Eugeen the same year. Augustine was Van Mieghem’s favourite model and he portrayed her dozens of times. When he returned from Amsterdam in 1904 he got her to pose nude, sometimes in poses derived from Rembrandt’s work.

In December 1904 Augustine was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that was still fatal at that time. She died on 12 March 1905. Despite her physical decline, Van Mieghem continued to draw Augustine. His studies of her sunken face and her wasted body are the most impressive works he created. Rembrandt’s poignant drawings and etchings of Saskia on her sickbed must have been an example and an inspiration to Van Mieghem.

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