TV works

Henri De Braekeleer

Henri De Braekeleer (1840-1888) stemmed from a family of Antwerp artists. His father Ferdinand (1792-1883) was a well-loved genre painter and his uncle Henri Leys (1815-1869) was Antwerp’s standard-bearer of historical painting. From the age of 14, Henri took drawing lessons at the Antwerp Academy. Despite his family background, Henri De Braekeleer did not make anecdotal, amusing genre tableaux, nor did he paint large historical canvases. He is primarily known for his depictions of interiors, with more or less introspective dramatis personae, sometimes seen from behind. Taking example from the Flemish Primitives and such 17th-century painters as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, he observed reality very closely. The play of light and colour in his paintings and the fact that the depiction and combination of forms is as important as the subject matter make his work modern.

Henri De Braekeleer did not paint very many pictures, his canvases were small, and – at first sight – the subjects trivial. Yet he was noticed by Vincent van Gogh, among others. In 1941, Maurice Gilliams wrote a book on him. Inleiding tot de idee Henri De Braekeleer (Introduction to the Henri de Braekeleer Idea). A retrospective exhibition of the work of Henri de Braekeleer at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp ended in 1989. While creating the film The Music Box with Jef Cornelis in 1994, Bart Verschaffel made some interesting discoveries that throw a whole new light on this figure (De Witte Raaf, no. 54, March-April 1995, pp. 11-15). Verschaffel clearly shows that no one had ever really looked carefully at De Braekeleer’s work. The paintings contain hidden meanings, but no one notices, because at first glance everything looks very normal. A dried-out plant, crippled hands or concealed words present covert messages. In The Man at the Window (1873), a woman’s silhouette is reflected in the left window. This new insight calls for a reinterpretation of the entire oeuvre. [Els Desmedt]