About this

Object details

The Man in the Chair
79 × 63 cm
Inventory number: 
lower right: Henri De Braekeleer

More about this work

Weary man, past glory
An unidentified man is seated in a corner of the conference room in the Brouwershuis in Antwerp. The building, which still exists, dates from the sixteenth century and originally distributed water to the city’s breweries. It was later adopted as the brewers’ guild hall, hence the fancy seventeenthcentury gold-leather wall covering behind the man.
The Brouwershuis was rediscovered in the nineteenth century by a small group of Antwerp painters who viewed it as a legacy of a golden age for their city. They liked to use the building as a backdrop for their historical scenes, whether out of nostalgia, Antwerp civic pride or Belgian patriotism – not to mention as a demonstration of their skills. It appears no fewer than eleven times in Henri De Braekeleer’s work. We know from his letters that he liked to paint in situ and from live models as much as possible, just like the plein-air artists of the same period. The latter were determined to paint nature directly, outdoors, the only way, as they saw it, to ensure the work’s ‘honesty’.
Going back to the unidentified man, he is seated in a seventeenth-century chair beneath a study for a painting of the Four Elements of the Brewers, which Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini made for the Antwerp guild around 1716. A console above supports an eighteenth-century statue of the brewers’ patron saint, Arnold of Soissons, who advised people to drink beer instead of water during outbreaks of contagious disease.
In addition to the tired or sad-looking male figure (the painter’s alter ego) and the artistically challenging interior, light is a third protagonist – again, as in the work of the plein-air artists. Here the light guides the eye towards the man’s head and hat, positioned right of centre. It flows in through the open window and shows this small piece of the world as it is, in all its slightly dilapidated glory. Once you have seen this corner of a room as De Braekeleer painted it, you never forget it.

Acquisition history

donation from: baron Georges Caroly, 1920

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