Hippolyte Daeye

03/07/2005 - 04/09/2005

Hippolyte Daeye was born on March 16, 1873 in Ghent to a proper, Catholic, bourgeois family which upheld dignity, work ethic, self-discipline and honesty as primary virtues. Daeye remained faithful to these values his entire life, but is also an extremely sensitive, timid soul, constantly tormented by doubt and despair.

Upon the death of his father he inherits a considerable fortune which will free him from financial concerns. The only downside to his carefree existence is a bone disease he contracted at the age of ten, which stunted his growth, and which makes that Daeye will remain relatively small in stature. The major world events have little impact on his life. During World War I he resides in England with his family and fellow artists (including Gustave Van de Woestijne, Edgard Tytgat, Constant Permeke, etc.). It is one of the happiest periods of his life. During World War II, he was forced to stay in Antwerp because of the illness of his wife. Not the war itself, but the eternal debate among friends about the war confuses him. This illustrates the field of tension within which Daeye exists, namely the fragile line between ‘what is’ and ‘who I am’.

Daeye is a late bloomer. He decides to become an artist only at the age of 23. He studies at the Academy in Ghent and later at the Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Antwerp. More important than his studies are the journeys he undertakes, primarily to Spain and Morocco (1903-1904). Here he discovers the richness of colour in the costumes, the dancing, the light, but especially Diego Velásquez. This artist has a profound influence on Daeye’s artistry. To Daeye, the sharpness and dedication with which Velasquez analyses his subjects, while at the same time distancing himself from them, is a huge revelation. Through Velásquez’ work, Daeye also discovers tonality. Velásquez’ colour application is extremely subtle and nuanced. It is as if the colour is first absorbed by the canvas to then explode toward the viewer all the more brightly. Velásquez’ work must certainly also have strengthened Daeye’s fondness of the portrait.

Also important, in an artistic sense, is his stay in England during World War I. First, he establishes close friendships with the artists of the Latem groups. It is here that he will discover – aside from artists such as James Whistler, John Constable and William Turner – African art, The Russian Ballet and the French Fauves. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain, and particularly Amadeo Modigliani, make a deep impression on Daeye. It is the clear and assured handling of the line in the drawing and the clarity of the composition that will permanently affect Daeye.

Despite being a well-informed follower and ardent supporter of the then contemporary art scene, as evidenced by the many exhibitions he organized, we find little painterly innovation in Daeye’s work. Daeye is the painter of intimacy and doubt. His work originates in the silence and solitude of the studio, and in the safety of the family, far away from the outside world. This duality between his knowledge of the surrounding world and the modesty of his own work is characteristic of his personality.

In her introduction to the catalogue raisonné, his granddaughter Mrs. Bernadette De Visscher-D'Haeye writes in 1989: “... when Daeye decided to become a painter, Western art had already lost its traditional social function for over fifty years. Confronted with this new approach to his profession, the artist found himself facing a choice: opt for the official art or follow the path of modernism and lead a life on the edge of society ... “. She adds: “Daeye experienced the dilemma of the modernist artist much more intensely because his was already a world of contradictions. Although he realized that, as an artist, he had placed himself outside of society, he nonetheless wanted to maintain a civil level of conformity."

Many artists have been forced to make this difficult choice. Many returned to academicism and disappeared in utter anonymity. Others have continuously struggled to be innovative. Most of them lacked the spark of genius and were condemned to anonymity. Daeye seems to have been aware of this, and fortunately for us, remained true to himself in all honesty. No work illustrates the fragility of the position of the artist better than the oeuvre of Daeye. And this is exactly what makes his work so relevant today.

The exhibition Hippolyte Daeye ran from July 3 to September 4, 2005.

For more information, see the issue of Museum doorDacht 1.

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