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EUGEEN VAN MIEGHEM (1875-1930) - AN ARTIST OF THE PEOPLE

 

In recent years the work of the Antwerp port artist Eugeen Van Mieghem has been rediscovered internationally. An recent Steinlen retrospective at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona included no less than seven of his works brought definitive international recognition for the work of an artist born in the heart of the old port of Antwerp on 1 October 1875.

As a boy Van Mieghem was confronted with the harsh reality of life at the waterfront. Even at primary school he showed a talent for drawing. He was introduced to the work of Van Gogh, Seurat, Meunier, de Toulouse-Lautrec and others at an exhibition organised by Henry van de Velde at the Antwerp Academy around 1892.

 

 

An idealism began to grow in him that he would never renounce. He became the artist of the typical harbour folk: sack porters, sack makers, emigrants, dockers, bargees and tramps.

In 1901 Van Mieghem had his first taste of real success at 'La Libre Esthétique' salon in Brussels, where his pastels and drawings hung alongside works by French impressionists such as Monet, Cézanne, Pissarro, Renoir and Vuillard. He married in 1902. At the end of November 1904 his young wife fell ill. Van Mieghem depicted her in an impressive series of drawings and pastels that rate alongside similar work by such artists as Rembrandt (the serie of Saskia) and Ferdinand Hodler (Valentine Godé).

 

 

Grief-stricken at the death of his wife, it was 1910 before Van Mieghem showed his work again. After his first individual exhibition at the Royal Society of Art of Antwerp in 1912 international interest in his work mounted and group exhibitions followed in Cologne and The Hague. In March 1919 he showed his wartime work in Antwerp. This remarkable series of mainly drawings and pastels met with the wide approval of art critics, who compared this work to that of Steinlen, Forain and Käthe Kollwitz. After an article by his friend Willem Elsschot appeared, Van Mieghem was also able to show his wartime work in a gallery in Scheveningen (Holland). In 1929 he became a teacher of life drawing at the Academy in Antwerp and he participated in exhibitions every year until his death in 1930.

 

 

In European social art of the turn of the century, international art critics compare his work to that of figures like Käthe Kollwitz, de Toulouse-Lautrec and Steinlen. Van Mieghem had no equal when it came down to drawing and painting the lives of ordinary people, living and working in an international seaport. When it comes to capturing social reality, his work has much of the power and authenticity of Jean-François Millet.

's. Like the precursor of social art, Van Mieghem never had to leave his own environment in search of subjects. The world was on his doorstep.

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