Frantz Charlet

The Dama game

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Frantz Charlet

The Dama game
Oil on panel signed and dated 1891 lower left
56 x 76 cm / 22.05 x 29.92 inch
Frame 94 x 114 cm / 37.01 x 44.88 inch
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Description of the artwork

This beautiful painting by Frantz Charlet is a work made during his second visit to Morocco. He depicted seven children around a game called dama, inspired by Spanish checkers. We easily recognize the headdress of the Rif’s children. Bold head with a strand of hair in the centre of the skull, is a tradition that dates back to ancient Egypt. This old style for boys aims to fight against evil and the evil eye. The boys are sitting on the floor on a traditional kilim carpet. 
Frantz Charlet translated into this composition all the elements that constitute his everyday life in Morocco. These boys are certainly the spinner’s children working next to his house. Moreover, it is likely the children must have been models for their mother too. As one can see in this work, a young boy is dressed with a caftan – traditionally a woman dress -, but his face is hidden, for the artist wants to respect the decency and the innocence of his young model.

This picture highlights the northern Morocco arts and crafts, with tapestry and beautiful traditional costumes. We perfectly identify the sewing techniques on costumes, mejdoules (twisted cords) that is used to adorn the outfits. This strongly realistic painting perfectly reflects the atmosphere prevailing in this small village. It is not far from an anthropological work that allows us to understand the codes and rituals of the time. On the one hand it shows the independence of children, with the boy who smokes like a man. While on the other hand, it highlights the submission to parents with a child who must be a model at the workshop. Finally, it stresses the importance of rituals and traditions through hairstyles and headdresses.

Biography of Frantz Charlet

Born into a family of Brussels industrialists, Frantz Charlet revealed at an early age a singular gift for painting. In 1877, at an exhibition in Ghent, the young Charlet was noticed with a still life of an exceptional quality. The critics of the time welcomed the young painting prodigy.

Frantz Charlet took his first painting lessons during two years with Portaëls, director of the Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Then the master suggested him to go to Paris in order to develop his talent with the great masters of painting. Charlet followed the teaching of Jules Lefebvre, Carolus Duran and Jean-Léon Gérôme, who passed down his love of the East and convinced him to travel in Africa.

The artist undertook a first journey to the South of Spain. Attracted by the light and the various architectural forms of the country, he decided to continue his journey to Morocco. He then joined his friend Theodore Van Rysselberghe, who was living near Tangier, at Ras el Ma, the capital of the Rif. Charlet stayed there eight months during the year 1883. The artist will live there a beaming and prolific period, during which he would discover the warmth and light of Morocco. Charlet became familiar with the Rif inhabitants who soon served as models for his works. During these eight months, Charlet and Van Rysselberghe kept painting Orientalist subjects they will bring back with them in France.

Back in France, the two friends arrived in Nice with thirty paintings noticed by a merchant named Mr. Lambert. Amazed by the exceptional quality of their works, he purchased a dozen of them. Charlet went back to Brussels with his family and a lot of money. Very active in the arts, he organized an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he showed a dozen Orientalist paintings in September 1883; his outstanding pieces were praised by the public and reviews were laudatory.

Despite this initial success, Charlet was haunted by the yearning for the blue sky. He then went once again for Morocco in December 1883, together with his faithful friend Van Rysselberghe. They bought a small house in Ras al Ma, close to a spinner’s workshop. And for two years, Charlet focused on painting characters in their everyday life. His servants and neighbours became his models and thus the spanners’ workshop inspired an impressive work of two meters by fifty meters which will be exhibited in 1885 in Brussels, at the exhibition "The twenty paintings brought from Morocco". Charlet took this opportunity to travel to Holland together with painters Whistler and Carriès.

He discovered a foggy atmosphere and then was fascinated by seascapes. He thus gradually left his passion for the Orient. In 1890, Charlet settled permanently in Brussels and devoted himself mainly to paint landscapes and seascapes of his country. It is one of the first painters in Belgium to look for brighter colours and a spontaneous touch, thus becoming closer French Impressionists.

As an active member of the Belgian art scene, he found in 1882 with James Ensor and Van Rysselberghe the group Les XX, then in 1903 he became a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Finally, in 1906 he became member with Gaston La Touche of the International Watercolour Society.

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