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The Emperor Charles V as a Child

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Jan Van Beers
Lier 1852 - Fay-aux-Loges 1927
1879
oil on canvas
143 x 151 x 3 cm
Inventory number 2336

The Emperor Charles V as a Child was a defining painting in the career of Jan Van Beers, an artist from the Flemish town of Lier who had emigrated to Paris. Art critics were unanimously enthusiastic about the painting, which was first shown to the public at the Brussels Salon of 1880. It represents a self-assured-looking boy in imperial attire. Although the regal and nonchalant posture of the emperor-in-waiting are striking, Van Beers emphasises mostly the child ‘behind’ the imperial figure. After this work, Van Beers switched quite abruptly to altogether different themes, focusing in particular on trivial genre scenes. His favourite subject matter included fashionably dressed women, landscapes and marines. It was easily digestible art that was particularly popular amongst the Parisian bourgeoisie. His paintings sold like hotcakes, but this quickly dampened the enthusiasm of art lovers and critics alike.

Art scandals

Despite his popularity, Van Beers would be remembered as a neurotic figure who became increasingly embroiled in scandal. He was twice taken to court: once over accusations of having used photographic aids in creating his work – he was even accused of having overpainted photos – and once for allegedly having paintings mass-produced in a workshop.

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