13 February 2010

Xavier Mellery: "Everything Is Alive, Even If It Does Not Move"

He who will manage to have us forget color and form at the price of emotion will achieve the highest goal of all.” - Xavier Mellery

For the son of a gardener to win the Prix de Rome for painting, a year in Italy must have been a door opening wide for 25 year-old Xavier Mellery (1845-1921). Mellery had grown up in suburban Brussels near the Parc Royale, immortalized by William Degouve de Nuncques in his 1897 pastel, now at the Musee d'Orsay.

Mellery's work, even at its most colorful, comes to us through a scrim. Although undated, his pastel of his childhood home, The Gardener's House, was probably an early effort. By 1882, when Mellery made this affecting portrait of his young daughter, he had mastered  elaboration of detail in muted colors He recorded a thoughtful moment with spontaneity; he knew her well enough to do so, unlike his countryman Fernand Khnoff, whose portraits of children, carefully considered and sometimes almost static in their effect,  were often based on photographs.

Perhaps the visual riches offered by the Doge's Palace and the Ca' Pisani, both in Venice, drew some latent sense of awe out of Mellery  a greater sense of depth and the movement that patterns evoke. Mellery was awed by his discovery of Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna, a master of spatial illusion, something that became a prominent characteristic of Mellery's charcoal works.

For the mystery and foreboding of the shadows, the meditation turned in upon itself and the silence are the very forms your thought takes on.”

 - Camille Lemmonier, excerpt from a letter to Mellery, dated 1899.
"Everything is alive, even if it does not move," Mellery wrote and it is that intention that draws us to his work. A symbolist but a gentle one, Mellery's portrayals of women are characterized by neither menace nor malice.

1. The Gardener's House, undated, Palace of Fine Arts, Brussels.
2. Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, 1882, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
3. Celebration at the Doge's Palace, 1876, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.
4. The Bedroom, 1888, Royal Museum of Fine Art, Brussels.
5. The Effect of Light, 1890, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
6. Beguine Reading by Lamplight, undated, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.
7. Xavier Mellery - La Poverella, a statue in the foyer of the Mellery home, 1889, Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.


femminismo said...

Mystery, foreboding - I love the doorway and the entrance into the courtyard. The painting of the young daughter is lovely!

Jane said...

Jeanne,much of Mellery's work is in charcoal and, of course, monochromatic. That's why I wanted to feature some that was not. His command of pastel is impressive.

Neil said...

What a wonderful quote!

Rouchswalwe said...

Your description of him as a gentle symbolist is so right. It's the first time I've seen his pastels. Thank you, Jane!

Jane said...

Neil, interestingly, there have been recent scientific researches on old musical instruments, violins, for example, that point toward some transmutation? storage? of energy from previous users. I wish I had retained the specifics, but Mellery's idea is in harmony with that.

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe,I think the portrait of Mellery's daughter is quite telling. Fernand Khnopff's portraits of children are fascinating, but distant by an exponential degree.