It is the beginning of the 20th century. For a while, a number of Belgian and French artists from different disciplines meet every Monday in Paris, at the house of the prominent poet Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) and his wife Maria. Van Rysselberghe reconstructed one of these meetings for this majestic group portrait at which Verhaeren, in a bright red coat, gave a dramatic reading from his work. With this composition, Van Rysselberghe places himself in a tradition of group portraits that goes back to Rembrandt and Frans Hals and remained popular throughout the 19th century.The room in which The Lecture takes place is Verhaeren's study. On the mantelpiece stands a statuette, a Kneeling Youth by George Minne. On the wall hangs a reproduction of a painting by James Mcneill Whistler. The intriguing little statue on the revolving bookcase on the left is by Auguste Rodin. Whistler's reproduction has a Pointillistic frame, which is also the style of the painting as a whole. It is a masterpiece in its genre, and also Van Rysselberghe's last as well as most ambitious painting in this technique. By this time, he had already replaced the dots of Pointillism in the strict sense by small dashes. An essential element of this work is the contrast between red and blue.
Verhaeren's highly attentive audience consists of seven personalities, all responding in a different way. They are individuals in a carefully composed group. Van Rysselberghe invited them all, one by one, to pose for him in his Paris studio. Who is who? On the left, behind Verhaeren, we have Félix Le Dantec (1869-1917), a biologist and atheist philosopher whom Verhaeren greatly admired.
The man sitting with his back to the mantelpiece is Francis Vielé-Griffin (1864-1937), a writer who had already written enthusiastic reviews of Verhaeren's work ten years earlier. Leaning against the mantelpiece, there is Félix Fénéon (1861-1944), art critic and friend of the family, as well as a friend of Théo van Rysselberghe himself. The pensive man of whom we see only the back is the painter Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), another close friend of both Verhaeren and Van Rysselberghe.
Henri Ghéon (1875-1944), a doctor who became a writer, is leaning on the chair. He is the youngest man in the company. In front of him, holding his hand to his face, sits Ghéon's close friend, the French writer André Gide (1869-1951), a younger contemporary of Verhaeren and a great admirer of his older Belgian colleague. At the far right we have Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), who, like Verhaeren, was an former pupil of the Ghent Jesuit St Barbara College and another legal man who later turned to letters.
SizeH: 181 cm
MediumOil on canvas