Anna Boch – Musee de Pont-Aven, France
3 Feb — 26 May 2024
The exhibition Anna Boch, an impressionist journey paints the multiple portrait of an artist, music lover, collector, patron, traveler and architecture enthusiast with a dynamic personality and eager for discovery. She was the most prominent female artist in Belgium.
Anna Boch (Saint-Vaast, Belgium, 1848 – Ixelles, Belgium, 1936) indeed led a very independent life, a choice made possible thanks to her social origins and family benevolence. The only woman to have joined the Belgian artistic circles Les XX and La Libre Esthétique, led by her cousin Octave Maus, she positioned herself there – a rare occurrence for the time – on an equal footing with her colleagues.
Together, they embarked on the adventure of neo-impressionism, then embodied by Théo van Rysselberghe, Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. His luminous paintings illustrate his search for line and color. Her passion for nature took her to remote corners to capture the beauty of bucolic landscapes. Anna Boch resolutely takes her place in post-impressionism at the end of the 19th century.
AN UNPRECEDENTED PARTNERSHIP WITH MU.ZEE OSTEND
It is a great first and a chance for the Pont-Aven Museum to join forces with a foreign museum such as the Mu.ZEE in Ostend (Belgium) to co-organize this unique exhibition dedicated to Anna Boch, 175 years after his birth. Sharing our practices, our points of view and our skills beyond borders is a necessity for the dynamism and open-mindedness of our cultural establishments.
It is thanks to Virginie Devillez, art historian and scientific curator of the exhibition, that this joint project was able to see the light of day. She brilliantly highlighted the close links that could be forged between this Belgian artist, the artistic history of Brittany and the issues defended by the Pont-Aven Museum. The exhibition which took place in Ostend from June to November 2023 was a great success with nearly 70,000 visitors.
THE PORTRAIT OF EUGÈNE BOCH BY VAN GOGH EXCEPTIONALLY LOANED BY THE MUSÉE D’ORSAY
Van Gogh and the Belgian painter Eugène Boch (1855-1941), brother of Anna Boch, met around mid-June 1888, while the latter was staying for a few weeks in a town very close to Arles. Around July 8, Vincent mentioned Boch in a letter to his brother Théo: “He’s a boy whose exterior I like a lot, razor blade face, green eyes with that distinction.”
On August 11, an idea emerged in his mind: “I would like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, who dreams big dreams, who works like a nightingale sings, because that is his nature. This man will be blond. I would like to put in the table my appreciation, my love that I have for him. I will therefore paint it as it is, as faithfully as I can […]. Behind the head, instead of painting the banal wall of the petty apartment, I paint the infinite, I make a simple background of the richest, most intense blue that I can make, and by this simple combination the blond head lights up on this rich blue background, obtains a mysterious effect like the star in the deep azure.
Two weeks later, Van Gogh carried out his plan and Boch posed for him: “Well, thanks to him, I finally have a first sketch of this painting, which I have been dreaming of for a long time – the Poet. He asked me. His fine head with green eyes stands out in my portrait against a deep overseas starry sky, the clothing is a small yellow jacket, an ecru canvas collar, a variegated tie.
Although he only considered it as a “sketch”, Van Gogh framed this work which he called the Poet. We know that it hung for a time on the wall of his bedroom in the Yellow House, since it appears in the first version of The Bedroom (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). This exceptional loan is part of the “150 years of Impressionism with the Musée d’Orsay (1874-2024)” season. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Impressionism, the Musée d’Orsay offered several museums in the region to lend emblematic works from its prestigious collection to create a chain of events and to dialogue with territorial institutions interested in this proposal.
THE LINKS OF ANNA AND EUGÈNE BOCH TO PAUL GAUGUIN, ÉMILE BERNARD AND MAURICE DENIS
Since the end of 1879, Anna Boch’s brother, Eugène, has been based in Paris and attended the workshops of Léon Bonnat then Fernand Cormon where he met Émile Bernard. The deep friendship of these two men is reflected in a series of portraits by Bernard, but also in the purchase of works and the unwavering support of the Bochs. Together they discovered and commented on Parisian artistic life, Eugène becoming one of the first witnesses to the blossoming of the Pont-Aven school and Synthetism. Although Anna does not know these artists personally, she is at the heart of their correspondence and is interested in the emergence of post-impressionist movements.
It was in March 1889 that Anna made a first founding purchase, despite the “sniggering of the crowd,”: Conversation. Brittany by Paul Gauguin exhibited at the XX. The Boch family’s relationship with the artist does not end there. In 1890, to help him, Eugène Boch bought a lot to share at a very low price: “I think it will please this poor guy who nevertheless has so much talent! Today I reviewed at least thirty paintings from Boussod, Valadon & Cie, and I made the choice of five works with Bernard.” One of them will remain in the collection of Eugène Boch, another will go directly to his sister Élisa Blondel and a third to Octave Maus.
Émile Bernard, witness to these Boch purchases, complains of being constantly in need and in turn hopes to obtain support from the family: “If your sister wanted one of my paintings, she should buy one for me. . That […] would relieve me of great trouble.” It was in this financially strained context that Bernard was commissioned in 1891 to create a screen representing Breton women engaged in rural activities. Installed in her workshop, Anna creates an echoing screen: Les Champs, la mer.
Maurice Denis is a must-have in Eugène Boch’s collection. In October 1903, Anna Boch went to Vézinet to visit the Sainte-Marguerite church decorated by Denis. The latter’s decoration project for the entrance hall of Anna Boch’s new house, rue de l’Abbaye in Ixelles, will unfortunately not see the light of day.
A STRONG ATTACHMENT TO BRITTANY
Anna Boch’s family background gives her the opportunity to travel and discover Europe while painting on the subject. No doubt the works of Henry Moret and Émile Bernard that she collected and which adorn the walls of her home convinced her to follow in the footsteps of these painters, for the first time in 1901 in South Finistère.
Bretagne’s works reveal her appropriation of neo-impressionist techniques and the work of light. During his first stay, it was the coast of southern Brittany that the artist discovered: Bénodet, Quimper. She detected subjects for her painting there and brought back several large canvases from the coast. The transparency of the water, the rays of the sun on the cliff, on the sea, the shadows offer numerous possibilities for study and practice. Alfred Jarry writes: “Miss Anna Boch reliably conveys the emotion of the coasts of Brittany”. She also sketches drawings taken from life in pencil, some more accomplished than others, seven of which she places in Bénodet. The artist and his brother returned to Brittany in 1912 with their driver. They visit Dinan, Saint-Brieuc, Guingamp, Lannion, Trégastel, Perros-Guirec, Ploumanac’h, Tréguier, Morlaix, Roscoff up to Carhaix. This time, the framing is tighter, always having the work of light as its main concern.