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Emile Claus (Belgian painter) 1849 - 1924

Emile Claus was born on 27 September 1849, in Sint-Eloois-Vijve, a village in West-Flanders (Belgium), at the banks of the river Lys. Emile was the twelfth child in a family of thirteen. Father Alexander was a grocer-publican and for some time town councillor. Mother Celestine Verbauwhede came from a Brabant skipper’s family and had her hands full with her offspring. As a child, Emile already loved drawing and on Sunday went three kilometres on foot to the Academy of Waregem (the neighbouring town) to learn how to draw. He graduated from the Academy with a gold medal. Although father Claus allowed him to take drawing classes, he did not fancy an artist's career for his son. Instead, he sent Emile as a baker’s apprentice to Lille (France). Emile learned French there but the job of a baker clearly did not appeal to him. He also worked for some time with the Belgian Railways and as a representative in the flax trade. The urge to paint did not let go of Emile and he wrote a letter for help to the famous composer and musician Peter Benoit, who live in nearby Harelbeke and was an occasional visitor of the family. Only with some effort, Peter Benoit managed to convince father Claus to allow his son to train at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. Claus did have to pay for his studies himself though. After graduating, he stayed to live in Antwerp. In 1883 Claus moved to cottage Zonneschijn ('Sunshine') in Astene, near Deinze (East-Flanders, Belgium), where he stayed until his death. From his living room, he enjoyed a beautiful view across the river Lys. The space and light of the country house clearly inspired him. Artistically, Claus soon prospered. As a celebrity, he became a friend of the family with amongst others the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and the naturalist Émile Zola, and with the Belgian novelists and poets Cyriel Buysse, Emile Verhaeren, Pol de Mont and Maurice Maeterlinck. He travelled around the world to attend exhibitions of his work. An important person in the life of Emile Claus was the painter Jenny Montigny. She followed master classes at his workshop in Astene and for years travelled back and forth between Ghent and Astene. Although Claus was 26 years older than she was, they began a relationship that would last until Claus' death. The First World War interrupted Claus’ international success. He fled to London where he found a house and workshop at the banks of the river Thames. He returned in 1918. 


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