The photographer-painter in exile

Henri Evenepoel

Henri Evenepoel arrives in Algeria in the autumn of 1897. Recovering from tuberculosis, the young artist is anything but enthusiastic about the start of his North African adventure. He has left familiar Paris with obvious reluctance, under slight duress from his father, who hopes that this study trip will mark the end of Henri's relationship with his cousin Louise. The painter has been staying with her and her family since the beginning of his studies, and at the time of his departure the two even have an illegitimate child, Charles.

Letters to Louise show that it is a deeply unhappy period. Not only does the artist miss his beloved, but he has difficulty in adapting to his new surroundings in every way. The bright African light is completely different from that in France, and the Muslims he encounters here, unlike the Parisians, do not willingly allow themselves to be portrayed. It explains why Evenepoel makes frequent use of his Pocket-Kodak in this phase. Secretly shot images form the basis of his sketches. The drawings and paintings he made in Algeria would later be counted among the best of his oeuvre.

“La danse, Algérie” is a clear example of a painting based on such a snapshot.

A character in motion, not quite neatly framed. The dancer's feet are cut out of the picture. We see an Evenepoel who goes further than in the portraits we are used to seeing from him. Photography is proving to be an undeniable modernising factor in the development of the artist's formal language.

Lot 97. See detail