© Sterling Ruby _ photo: Henk Schoenmakers
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Valerius De Saedeleer

13/11/2005 - 15/01/2006

When Valerius Saedeleer (Aalst 1867 - Leupegem 1941) settled in Sint-Martens-Latem in 1898, he was, as a young artist, not quite sure where to go with his painting. The smoothly painted natural landscapes with the impressionistic brushwork of his master Frans Courtens were certainly deserving, but the Saedeleer was looking for something different, something personal. In Sint-Martens-Latem he could reorientate himself in an artistic environment, in which also sculptor George Minne and painter Gustave Van de Woestyne had come to settle. He was attracted to the unspoiled nature, the diversity of the landscape and the frugal, simple life.

Until 1903, the work of Valerius De Saedeleer clearly evidences the influence of Frans Courtens. It is not until 1904 that he will start making highly personal interpretations of the landscape. At a time when Impressionism experienced its last flourishing period, Fauvism and Cubism became popular in France and a number of artists introduced expressionism as a new style in Germany, Valerius De Saedeleer realises classical landscapes with a very thoughtful composition, a smooth texture and a meticulous execution. His coming into contact with the Flemish Primitives in a major exhibition in Bruges in 1902 is commonly referred to as the reason for the sudden change in the work of De Saedeleer. He will from then on pay great attention to the artisanal perfection of his work, and become part, in this way, of the Flemish painting tradition. Following the example of the Primitives, he shuns any form of improvisation and leaves nothing to chance.

Around 1907-1908, he paints several landscapes with leafless trees in the foreground. These calligraphically elaborate branches will become a typical trademark for the artist. At that time he also realises various series depicting the smithy and the Temple Farm in different seasons. In 1908, Valerius Saedeleer moves with his family to Tiegem in the Flemish Ardennes. The flat landscape of the Lys landscape gives way to a panorama of hills and valleys. After a stay in Wales during World War I, he settles back in the Flemish Ardennes, this time in Etikhove, where he will live until a few years before his death.

With this exhibition, we wish to gain deeper insight into Valerius De Saedeleer’s working method. The study of his body of work reveals that his choice of landscapes used as subjects in his paintings was rather limited. Each landscape was approached differently: like a photographer, he zooms in or out, finds different focal points, plays with light effects or seasonal changes. He also adds elements to the composition, or takes others – such as trees or houses – out. It therefore seemed interesting to put together a number of series for this exhibition. The series of Lys landscapes for example, will allow us to pinpoint the artistic turning point in De Saedeleer’s oeuvre. While the first Lys-views are evocations of nature impressions, they soon evolve into a seemingly photorealistic representation of reality. These Lys-landscapes present a low horizon, with the sky dominating a large area of the work.

After the Lys landscape come the works depicting the forge and the Temple Farm in Latem. Here again, we see how he plays with the framing of the image and the seasonal changes. In the works from the twenties showing the landscape as seen from his studio in Etikhove, he plays with different views. In one work it is a row of trees that dominates the front plan, in another the old barn or a monochrome white snowfield. He also plays with gradient effects, leaving the bottom of the canvas white and increasingly adding green toward the top.

With the presentation of this selection of paintings, we sought to affirm the current value and significance of the work of De Saedeleer. He used a technique that is still being used by artists today, and deserves a special place in the history of art. So it seemed like a true challenge to throw new light onto the stale bourgeois image of this exceptional painter. However, it was unfortunate that some series could nevertheless not be realised or displayed in their entirety. We therefore wish to sincerely thank all those who did lend their help to make this exhibition possible, and in doing so have helped transmit the artistic significance of Valerius De Saedeleer to the next generations of art lovers.

This exhibition ran from November 13, 2005 to January 15, 2006.

For more information, see the issue of Museum doorDacht 2.

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