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The Man in the Chair

Henri De Braekeleer
  • Object number 1845
  • Date (1875)
  • Dimensions 79 × 63 cm
  • Medium Oil on canvas
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Schilderij De man in de stoel van Henri De Braekeleer

The man in the chair: an everyday scene?

We don’t know who this man is, sitting in a chair. But we can say where he is: in the council chamber of the Brewer’s House in Antwerp. The painting seems to depict a trivial situation. Yet the work is anything but ordinary. There is something in the main figure’s moving gaze that transcends the everyday. Daylight flows in through the open window. The chair, the cushion beneath his feet and the opulent wallpaper all seem almost tangible. The artist clearly studied and painted everything in detail.

Playing with colour and light

De Braekeleer brilliantly reproduces the refinement of the materials and fabrics here, using the incoming light. Look, for instance, at the red accents by the sleeves of the jacket. Or the golden brown, grey and red tones and their infinite nuances. The play of light, the colours, the many materials, the rendering of the fabrics, the subtle sensitivity combine to imbue The Man in the Chair with an intimate, poetic atmosphere. The man’s identity remains a mystery. He doesn’t even feature in the many preliminary studies that De Braekeleer made. The figure only appears in the final work. Forever anonymous...

The old council chamber: a favourite setting

This canvas was originally called Council Chamber in the Brewers’ House. The location in Antwerp was very popular with artists in the 19th century. Its gold-leather wall coverings, marble floor and large windows gave them the perfect opportunity to show off their technique and brilliance. De Braekeleer was likewise attracted to the unique interior. It was his uncle and teacher, Henri Leys, who introduced him to the Brewers’ House. Both painters incorporated the centuries-old setting in their work several times. Eight depictions of the interior are known by De Braekeleer. Including The Man in the Chair.

Genre painting by De Braekeleer

The Man in the Chair is a traditional genre piece by the Antwerp painter Henri De Braekeleer: a work showing a scene from everyday life. Yet there is poetry in it too. The play of colour and light reveals the artist’s subtle sensitivity. The setting too – the Brewers’ House in Antwerp – lends the painting a special importance to the collective memory. All the same De Braekeleer wasn’t interested in historical reconstructions. The Brewers’ House appears here solely as a historical rarity. The old man serves to emphasize the location’s past glory and its abandonment.