This portrait of the Belgian writer Camille Lemonnier (1844-1913) is part of a remarkable series of paintings by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) that feature his own studio. The series includes works such as Le repos du peintre (1855), L’atelier du peintre (1869) and Dans l’atelier (1888). Lemonnier’s portrait is frequently referred to in the literature on Stevens, notably because it is part of the studio theme and because it presents numerous stylistic similarities with these other studio scenes.
Alfred Stevens portrays the author standing up, as a painter would be seen in his studio. In fact, this is the archetypal portrayal of the artist at the end of the 19th century. The eclectic multitude of objects we see reflect the artist’s personal sphere of interest, such as his admiration for Albrecht Dürer, indicated here by the reproduction of a drawing in Vienna. Other objects, framing the window, lend a typically Japanese atmosphere to the composition: the terracotta horse, the Japanese Noh theatre mask, the fan, the paper and bamboo parasol, the peacock feathers and the bunch of pampas grass. Such an amalgam of esoteric-looking objects was typical of interiors painted at the end of the 19th century because it enabled the creation of a very personal atmosphere that was at the same time distinctive and exclusive. The interiors of studios themselves were often given a somewhat solitary aspect, with a view to projecting the romantic dimension so carefully cultivated in the iconography of the19th century.
This portrait is also an excellent illustration of a fascinating page in the history of art at the end of the 19th century, notably the numerous exchanges that took place between Paris and Brussels. Camille Lemonnier was part of the Belgian literary elite that included Maurice Maeterlinck, Georges Rodenbach, Charles Van Lerberghe and Émile Verhaeren, all of whom enjoyed considerable fame in Europe, and especially in Paris. Like his contemporaries, Lemonnier had a particular interest in the visual and decorative arts. He developed amid a circle of intellectuals, including Alfred Stevens, who also spent his time between Brussels and Paris. Stevens was born in Brussels, but he died in Paris.
This portrait, which has been perfectly conserved, was for many years part of a private collection, so that members of the public had only rare occasions to see it. Today, thanks to its purchase by the Heritage Fund, the work is on show at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.