Maria Sèthe, afterwards Mrs. Henry Van de Velde


Theo Van Rysselberghe
Ghent 1862 - Saint-Clair 1926
oil on canvas
118 x 84.5 cm
Inventory number 2690

A young woman stares dreamily into the distance. Her expression exudes a sense of determination, calm and self-confidence. Her smile suggests that she is thinking about something pleasant. Her blond pinned-up hair, her delicate face and elegant neck radiate an ivory glow. Like the curtain in the background, her dress is purple, a symbol of material wealth. The Ghent-born artist Theo Van Rysselberghe represented Maria Sèthe, the wife-to-be of fellow-painter, designer and architect Henry Van de Velde, in a setting that is luxurious, but not gaudy. Sèthe is seated at a harmonium, but she is not playing. Sticking out from behind the instrument is the neck of a cello. The painting in the top of the picture contains the artist's signature and the date of the portrait.


Being a Belgian artist, Van Rysselberghe was quite familiar with the great Flemish tradition of portraiture. On the other hand, he took into account the artistic tastes of the 19th-century bourgeoisie. In 1886, Van Rysselberghe discovered the work of the French artist George Seurat at the Impressionist exhibition in Paris, and he promptly began experimenting with Neo-Impressionist techniques. He applied Seurat's pointillism in masterly fashion in his portraits, using tiny dots for expressive elements such as hands and face, and larger dots for other areas.

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