The geographer is an etching after a painting from 1871 by Henri de Braekeleer (Antwerp, 1840-1888). A proponent of the Belgian realist tradition, the artist was a painter of “silence”, known for his mastery of colour light to create poetic interior scenes. He would often reduce the image to the depiction of just a single figure, viewed from behind, silently absorbed in some form of activity. De Braekeleer rarely left his native city of Antwerp, with the exception of a few cultural visits to the Netherlands and Germany. There, he fell in love with the oeuvre of 17th-century Dutch masters such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter De Hooch, whose work is closely related to his own.
This painting is inspired by Vermeer’s famous work the Geographer. Just like Vermeer’s scholar, the geographer here is intently examining a map. He points to a place in northern Germany. We can discern the words “Oostzee” –the Baltic Sea–and “Saxonia”, the Latin name for Saxony, the culturally important capital of which, the city of Dresden, de Braekeleer had visited during his travels.
In the year in which de Braekeleer made his painting, 1871, following the French Prussian War, the German states including Saxony were united to form the German Empire.
This understated etching was made in 1882 by the young Marie Danse (Brussels, 1866-1942). The daughter of the famous engraver, etcher and draughtsman Auguste Danse and the niece of the painter and sculptor Constantin Meunier, she married the later socialist minister Jules Destrée. She made this etching during her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Mons, as one of many engraved reproductions of old and modern masters. She would later create her own original work.
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