Leon De Smet

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Biography of Leon De Smet ( 1881-1966 )

Léon de Smet was born in Ghent in a family of artists; his father Jules de Smet was the owner of a firm of decorators and his brother Gustave was also a painter. Léon de Smet joined the Fine Art School in Ghent where he began his apprenticeship in 1993. In 1895 he studied paining with Jean Devlin and Jules van Biesbroeck.

He settled in Laethem-Saint-Martin in 1906 and shared a studio with Albert Servaes and Fritz Van den Berghe.

After that, he joined the Luminist circle Vie et Lumière, an artistic movement created in 1904 by Emile Claus, George Morren and Adrien-Joseph Heymans that gathered together the majority of the Belgian impressionists painters.

In 1909, Léon de Smet exhibited at the Biennale in Venice, he obtained a great success. From that time, he became a recognized artist and won a silver medal at the international exhibition in Venice in 1911.

In 1913 he won the first prize of the competition organized for the Universal Exhibition poster in Ghent.

He had to go into exile in London during WWI. There he continued to paint and obtain some success during his exhibitions in Leicester and Burlington galleries. The press is also very  enthusiastic on his work. In 1921 a reviewer in The Globe wrote of the eagerly awaited exhibition and of de Smet as “a magnificent draughtsman and a fine colourist.”

During this time, he did numerous portraits, of whom Georges Bernard Shaw’s and Joseph Conrad’s who became his friends.

This painting dated 1914 has been realized just before his departure for London. It represents in the pure technique of luminism the edge of the Lys, while one can guess in a luminous fog the typical turrets of Ooidonk castle. On the back of the canvas there is a woman portrait with vivid and sparkling colors. For this portrait, Leon de Smet used pointillism technique with a wonderful manner.

De Smet continued to exhibit widely throughout the 1920s and 30s in Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and in 1929 Pittsburgh. In 1930 the artist moved to Deurle. The 1940s saw de Smet remain in Belgium continuing to show his work regularly; in 1948 his work being included in the exhibition ‘Laethem-Saint Martin a colony of Flemish painters 1890-1940’ at the museum of modern art in Paris. In 1961 a major retrospective show of his work was held in Brussels. 

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