Jan Van Beers

Jan Van Beers

Biography of Jan Van Beers ( 1852-1927 )

A painter of portraits, history and  genre scenes, Jan Van Beers was born in Lierre (Belgium), in 1852. His father was a famous poet. Van Beers befriended artists such as the composer Pierre Benoit, (1834-1901), whom he portrayed in 1883, and the painter Baron Henri Leys.

Studying at the renowned Antwerp Fine Arts Academy, he  soon became the leader of a group of young promising artists, known as the « Van Beers clique ». Among them, Piet Verhaert (1852-1908), Alexander Struys (1852-1941), et Jef Lambeaux (1852-1908). 

In his early days, the artist made many historical paintings, such as « The Funeral of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders » (1876, Petit Palais) or « The Witch » (1877). Critics were  unanimous in recognizing the technical mastery of Van Beers, comparing him the great masters of Flemish painting.

In 1878, Van Beers moved to Paris and started to work in the studio of A. Stevens. He painted huge historical pieces, landscapes and small genre pictures at the same time. After 1879, he made genre scenes and modern life subjects painted in a photo-realistic style. He painted very small paintings, delicately brushed, hyperrealistic in their details and extremely finished. Success was almost immediate, and, in 1880, when he presented his work « Soir d’Eté » in the  Paris Salon, art critics lauded his elegant and fine touch.

The following year, at the Brussels Salon of 1881, Van Beers was in the centre of a scandal. He exhibited two paintings at the Salon : « Lily », a tiny portrait of a girl, and « The yacht ‘Sirene’ ». For this last painting, the Belgian critics, Solvay and De Mons suspected him to have painted over a photograph,  calling his work a « photo-peinture ». On the other hand, the Review « l’Art Moderne »defended him by suggesting that those were merely echoing comments of some artists which were jealous of Van Beers’ success. Van Beers asked the critics to have both his paintings scrapped off and checked by experts. An unknown person then vandalised the « Sirene » by scratching off the face of the young woman. After a thoroughful examination, the commission’s report cleared Van Beers of all charges and concluded that he was: « an honest man ».  

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