Fernand Toussaint (Belgian painter) 1873 - 1955
Fernand Toussaint was born into a cultivated upper-middle class family in Brussels in 1873. His artistic talent was discovered during his childhood and was encouraged by his family to further develop his skills. At the age of 15, Toussaint began his artistic education at the Art Academy of Brussels under the tutorship of the renowned portrait painter Jean-François Portaels from 1889 until 1894. Portaels was the first Belgian Orientalist painter to have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and was an important and influential portraitist. As a teacher and director of the Academy, he taught the basics of painting to students while still allowing them to freely express themselves. Toussaint eventually completed his artistic studies in Paris, where he studied under renowned Belgian portraitist Alfred Stevens. Stevens, a personal friend of Charles Baudelaire, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, specialized in portraits of mundane women, and was one of the first artists of his time to integrate Japanese elements into his works. Stevens’ great influence can be seen throughout the evolution of Toussaint’s oeuvre. Toussaint was primarily known as a painter and watercolourist of female portraits, which he presented in a rich and elegant manner. His works were usually commissioned by the upper-middle class and noble families. His models were always dressed in the latest fashion, often accompanied by an umbrella or a hat, and seated on a bench in a house interior. The gazes of the women are honest, barely provocative and dreamy. Avant-garde art magazines in Paris took notice of him when he was awarded the gold medal for a portrait of an elegant lady at the renowned “Salon des Artistes Français” in Paris in 1929. In an article about “Le Salon de Paris” in “L’Illustration”, the French art critic Jacques Baschet wrote the following about Toussaint: “Faut-il ranger dans le genre ou le portrait ce ‘Printemps’ de Mr. Toussaint, bien composé, coloré, chaudement peint? La fantaisie dans la tradition flamande ne s’éloigne jamais beaucoup de la réalité. Pas d’autres symboles qu’une figure assise, avec les attributs féminins de la saison nouvelle, la robe légère, les fleurs du chapeau, le châle qu’on rejette des épaules et, dans le regard fixe sur la vie, le secret d’un cœur”. He also painted portraits of men and children, but these were less frequently commissioned by his patrons. Toussaint was also a renowned painter of beautiful floral still lifes and interiors. He painted floral bouquets in the same elegant and feminine manner as his portraits. His works featured red, yellow and pink roses in bloom, as well peonies in diverse colours in order to create a greater contrast of colours. The presence of certain fruits such as apples, raisins and lemons were illustrated with sombre brush-strokes, so that the bright colours of the flowers would draw the attention of the viewer. The flowers were usually arranged in a glass bowl or a Chinese vase, surrounded by a sober interior that was clearly inspired by the Art Nouveau period. Japanese influences appear regularly in the backgrounds of his works, especially Japanese drawings of Samurai warriors and female geisha’s wearing traditional kimonos. His flower paintings were geometrically constructed like those of the 17th century flower painters, using diagonal lines to attract the viewer’s attention. In some of his larger works he arranged additional objects such as an umbrella, a fan, a snuff box, as well as colourful ribbons on salon tables to add a feminine touch. Toussaint did not limit himself to portraits and still lifes; he also depicted cityscapes, landscapes, coastal views and seascapes. His works in this genre were greatly influenced by contemporaries such as Constant Permeke and Adrien le Mayeur de Merprès. The Belgian art critic Camille Lemonnier described Toussaint as “one of the painters that broadened the horizon of the peaceful and intimate landscape”. He regularly visited the Belgian coast for inspiration for his works, painting views of the dunes, the harbours and its fishing boats. In contradiction to his vivid use of colour in his portraits and floral still lifes, Toussaint used sombre brush-strokes to realistically depict nature. Toussaint was also known as an engraver and a draughtsman of posters and telegrams for official occasions. Beginning in 1895, he received numerous assignments to create commercial posters for the yearly trade fairs, coffee houses, fashion brands and art magazines. His signature style of painting elegant, beautiful women with Art Nouveau style backgrounds clearly shines through in these posters. Fernand Toussaint rightfully takes his place among the most important Belgian Post-Impressionist painters of the 20 th century. He is celebrated for his ability to convey feminine charm and grace in his portraits and still lifes. Influenced by Alfred Stevens and the French Impressionists, he has a large and diverse oeuvre that has received international attention due to the quality and expression of his work. He will, no doubt, merit more attention in the coming years from the international art market.