4 April 1883|
|Died||19 April 1966
|Notable work||The Potato Planters (1909), Stations of the Cross of Luithagen (1919), Pietá (1920)|
Albert Servaes (4 April 1883 – 19 April 1966) was a Belgian expressionist painter. He was part of the first Latem school of painting which focused on Mystical Realism, but became a founder of Belgian expressionism later in life. He became known for his religious works, typically showing the suffering of Jesus Christ, which stirred controversy in the Roman Catholic Church. He also gained fame for his expressionist landscapes.
Life and career
Albert Servaes was born in the city of Ghent, in the Flanders region of Belgium. He painted from a young age, and was mostly self-taught. At the age of 23, Servaes joined a community of artists outside of Ghent, in Sint-Martens-Latem. He became religiously interested while living in the community, and he befriended members of the church. At this time, he developed an interest in religious works and mysticism, which would play a major part in the first Latem School he would join. Servaes struggled to live off his paintings early in his career, but he gained fame and recognition in Ghent and Belgium during World War I. Several of his exhibitions near Ghent solidified his name in the regional art discourse while also stabilizing him financially.
Servaes was a member of the first Latem school of Painting, which was focused on mystical realism. Other members of the school included George Minne, Gustave van de Woestijne, Valerius De Saedeleer, and Albijn Van den Abeele. The school’s mystical realism orientation was a reaction to the Paris-based Impressionist art that had dominated the painting world for the previous half-century. With George Minne, Servaes gained international recognition because of major exhibits in Brussels and Amsterdam.
Servaes and other painters of the time were forced to innovate in order to keep their livelihood alive. Photographers were intruding on an industry that had once been dominated by painters. In order to gain attention from critics and the public, artists in the early 20th century had to be original. This contrasts past painters who worked toward a mastery of the common painting techniques such as the use of light and color. Since photography could easily portray exactly what an artist sees, painters needed to find a fresh method to express themselves. Servaes innovated in his work using painting techniques that founded Flemish Expressionism. He experimented with different ways to show his personal emotions through his paintings.
Because of his sympathies for Nazi cultural policy during the occupation of Belgium in World War II, Servaes fled to Switzerland in 1944 where he would remain until his death in 1966.
Common themes of Servaes paintings were landscapes, agricultural scenes, and subjects from the Bible. He pioneered the expressionist style in Flanders using several techniques. The first was a blurring of perspective that was first found in Impressionism. Servaes combined this technique with a use of earth colors to create a gloomy tone in many of his works. An example of this is his 1914 landscape Petit Chemin, which translates as "a small path" or a "small way." The earth tones in this painting show his exclusive use of somber colors, even for the sky. He signed the piece "A. Servaes," as he did for most of his works.
Roman Catholic Church Controversy
Servaes’ 1919 Stations of the Cross of Luithagen was a collection of 14 charcoal drawings depicting religious figures, such as an emaciated Jesus Christ on the cross. These drawings represented a raw expressionist style of religious scenes of which the Catholic Church disproved. Due to Servaes’ brutal depictions of religious events, many of his works were removed from Belgian churches in 1921. In an effort to support and explore Servaes' spiritual vision, Dutch Carmelite friar Titus Brandsma had the images published in Opgang, a Catholic cultural review. Alongside each image, Brandsma added his own meditation. The controversy demonstrates how expressionists were misunderstood in the public eye because their work distorted nature in a way that led away from beauty.
The fallout of the controversy left Servaes at a crossroads in his painting career. He focused on landscape paintings after the controversy and before World War II began. However, Servaes did not give up his grim exclusively-charcoal technique permanently. When he lived with the monks at Orval Abbey starting in 1927, he drew the residents there using his charcoal-expressionist style. By 1935, the public was more accepting of new art styles, and the monks commissioned Servaes to create a new Stations of the Cross collection.
- "Albert Servaes." Galerie Oscar De Vos - Sint-Martens-Latem - Welkom ! Web. 7 May 2010. <http://www.oscardevos.be/eng/kunstenaars/kunstenaars/tweedegroep/as/pop.htm>.
- Boyens, Piet. Flemish Art: Symbolism to Expressionism at Sint-Martens-Latem. Tielt [Belgium]: Lannoo, 1992. Print.
- Gombrich, E. H. The Story of Art. London: Phaidon, 1995. 441-70. Print.
- Schoonbaert, Lydia M. A. Albert Servaes. Tielt [Belgium]: Lannoo, 1984. Print.
- Titus Brandsma and Albert Servaes, Ecce Homo: Schouwen van de weg van liefde/Contemplating the Way of the Cross. Edited by Jos Huls. Leuven: Peeters, 2003. 3. Print.