Georges LEMMEN | Beach at Heist [Plage à Heist]

Georges LEMMEN
Belgium 1865 – 1916

Beach at Heist
[Plage à Heist]
oil on wood panel
panel 37.5 (h) x 45.7 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase 1987
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot

The Belgian, Lemmen—like van Rysselberghe (see Sailing boats and estuary and The man at the tiller) and other members of Les XX (The Twenty)—was converted to Neo-Impressionism following the exhibition of Seurat’s iconic A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte 18861, at the Salon des XX in 1887. Like many of the Belgian Neo-Impressionists, however, Lemmen did not practise the technique for long. By the turn of the century he had begun to focus on the applied arts, experimenting with a broad range of media including designs for books, posters, carpets, wallpapers and even furniture. He did return to painting later in his career, though, with works which are generally intimate family portraits and scenes of home, painted in a naturalistic style.

During his Neo-Impressionist phase, Lemmen painted portraits as well as land and seascapes, such as Beach at Heist. Heist is a popular coastal resort town in the Belgian province of West Flanders, near the country’s border with the Netherlands. Many of Lemmen’s coastal scenes and landscapes were painted around the area, which was also popular with other Belgian artists (van Rysselberghe summered in the neighbouring town of Knokke in 1887).

While this painting exemplifies Lemmen’s Neo-Impressionist work, it also prefigures his move towards an Art Nouveau aesthetic. An abandoned boat rests at the edge of a deserted beach, the sole witness to the brilliance of the sunset over the ocean. A stillness pervades the scene, which is lent a slightly haunting feel by the unnatural shape of the large cloud that dominates the sky, and the lurid colours in which the work is painted. These starkly contrasting colours are applied with the regular, dotted brushstrokes typical of Neo-Impressionism, yet the fanciful shapes they create suggest the whimsical patterns of Art Nouveau: organic, finger-like forms protrude from the cloud in the sky, and the waves form glimmering curls as they wash onto the beach.

Emilie Owens

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.