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WILLAERT Ferdinand"OUDE VAART TE GENT / THE OLD CITY OF GHENT, BELGIUM"
Willaert often revisited the picturesque corners of his beloved city Ghent and this might just be his best representation of a charming corner of a city he felt was worth capturing, and how right he was! Mind you that, although impressionism was about depicting scenes from everyday life, Willaert did not let that stand in the way of choosing a magnificent spot on the river and framing his view in an inviting and tantalizing way. The spectator gets lured in, really feels immerged in the setting, but when it comes to finding out what is around the bend … well, I suggest taking a boat ride on the river. Painting on a small, shaky boat must have been quite a feat, but in fact we know that Monet and Renoir painted (studies) on the river Seine in Paris as well. The date of the painting is unknown but must be situated in his early style, because only later did he abandon classicist elements for heavier paint daubs. This blend of artistic elements from different genres makes for a wonderful equilibrium between a picturesque representation and a romantic story in which a parallel, credible yet non-existent reality is evoked. Blurry reflection often has an enchanting effect and this painting is no exception: notice how the building’s reflection demands more attention than the old houses do. Past the foreground, the spectator immediately goes on to the bridge before being swept away to way-back-when. Like all great artists, Willaert appreciates the intellect of the spectator and suggests instead of telling. Ferdinand Willaert (Ghent 1861 – 1938) was born the son of a painter. His father specialized in religious compositions and portraits. Two of his sons opted for the same strategy, one staying true to painting dogs and the other to marine paintings. Ferdinand, however, showed more bravery as he continued to explore different styles and subjects. Although his love for small Flemish streets or the myriad of convents he painted, might led one to believe he was not keen on expanding his horizons, there are plenty of Moroccan portraits and landscapes to prove otherwise. After the passing of his first wife, he married painter Valentine Fontan. Whilst being director of the school of fine arts in Dendermonde up until his retirement, he spent his summer months at the estate of his father-in-law, painting and being surround by painters. Leading work of Belgian Impressionism, reproduced with a color illustration on page 140 of Serge Goyens De Heusch’s unsurpassed masterpiece “Het Impressionisme en het Fauvisme in België”, [“Impressionism and Fauvism in Belgium”], Brussels 1988, ISBN 9789061534211. Extraordinary play of light.
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