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The beautiful story of Anna Boch passes through Brittany
la-belle-histoire-danna-boch-passe-par-la-bretagne - ARTACTIF
June 2024 | Reading time: 28 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the exhibition “Anna Boch. An impressionist journey”, visible at the Pont-Aven Museum (29) until May 26.

I will end up believing that a curse has fallen on me concerning the Pont-Aven museum! I was dazzled last year by the superb poster announcing the exhibition “Artistes Voyageuses – L’appel des distants”. The graphics caught my attention, as well as the mention of the Pont Aven Museum. Yes, I have a cognitive problem with numbers. Having returned from a trip to the Bigouden region, I returned specifically to set up my caravan in this famous city of painters in Finistère. I was ready to drive without stopping on Friday (which is not in my slow nomad habits) to honor a following commitment requiring my presence in the East of France that weekend. On Thursday June 22, 2023 I was hard at work in front of the Pont Aven museum. And I discovered, stunned, that the exhibition would be visible, as the poster mentioned, from June 24 to November 5, 2023...

Okay, I took the opportunity to visit the permanent collection and I enjoyed the crepes from Chez Armelle, a super nice place that I recommend to you in passing. But hey… I mainly put an option to return to the region before November 5 that year, and I didn’t succeed. This time, reading the “Story of a Life” in the Connaissance des arts magazine for the month of April, I tell myself that I will be able to go to the Pont Aven Museum in 2024 to savor the works of art of Anna Boch, since I'm heading back to Finistère soon. Well imagine that I will be there on June 6… while the exhibition “Anna Boch. An impressionist journey” is visible there until May 26…

And you know what ? I was passing through Ostend with my caravan in February 2023, in Belgium, where I was visiting the wonderful Mu.ZEE, when I saw the poster announcing the unique exhibition by Anna Boch co-organized by the Belgian museums and Breton on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the birth of this impressionist and collector whom I did not yet know. Except that it began on July 1, this beautiful retrospective exhibition... I said to myself "I have time, I will return to Ostend before November 5"... But my caravan has traveled so many other roads that I am still not not returned to Mu.ZEE. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to discover it if you haven’t already: its permanent collection alone is breathtaking!

It is thanks to Virginie Devilz, art historian and scientific curator of the exhibition, that this joint project between the Pont Aven museum and Mu.ZEE was able to see the light of day. She brilliantly highlighted the close links that could be forged between this Belgian artist, the artistic history of Brittany and the issues defended by the Pont-Aven Museum. Anna Boch's family origins and the financial wealth that goes with it (a rich industrialist father from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: Villeroy & Boch, does that mean anything to you?), offers her the opportunity to travel and discover Europe while painting on the motif. No doubt the works of Henry Moret and Émile Bernard, which she collected and which adorn the walls of her home, convinced her to follow in the footsteps of these painters, for the first time in 1901 in South Finistère. Bretagne's works reveal her appropriation of neo-impressionist techniques and the work of light. The transparency of the water, the rays of the sun on the cliff, on the sea, the shadows offer numerous possibilities for study and practice. Alfred Jarry writes: “Miss Anna Boch reliably conveys the emotion of the coasts of Brittany”. The artist and his brother Eugène Boch (1855-1941), also a painter, returned to Brittany in 1912 with their driver. Yes, “family origins” helps…

Good for Anna! As Colin Lemoine writes so well in Connaissance des Arts, “impressionist and pointillist, collector and musician, emancipated, madly emancipated, the Belgian painter Anna Boch (1848-1937) knew how to be a woman and an artist, to be one without never deny the other, working on a splendid crest line. Rare ".

The exhibition “Anna Boch, an impressionist journey”, therefore, paints the multiple portrait of an artist, music lover, collector, patron, traveler and passionate about architecture (she had her Brussels house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta, herald of Art Nouveau), with a dynamic personality and eager for discoveries. Personally, I had not previously memorized her name, nor her story, I admit, but in fact, she was the most prominent female artist in Belgium. The Ostend exhibition was also attended by nearly 70,000 visitors.

Anna Boch (Saint-Vaast, Belgium, 1848 - Ixelles, Belgium, 1936) indeed led a very independent life, a choice made possible thanks to her social origins, as we have seen, and to family benevolence. If she is the only woman to have joined the Belgian artistic circles Les XX and La Libre Esthétique, it is not only because she became friends with the painter Isidore Verheyden (1846-1905) who became her teacher , it is also because they were led by his cousin, lawyer and art critic, Octave Maus. Nevertheless, she positioned herself – a rare occurrence for the time – on an equal footing with her colleagues. Elected “twentyist” in 1885, the same year as Félicien Rops, Boch remained the only woman in the group. I surprise you if I tell you that he was then given “male talent”?

In short, Anna embarked with her brother on the adventure of neo-impressionism, then embodied by Théo van Rysselberghe, Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. His luminous paintings illustrate his search for line and color. His passion for nature takes him to remote corners to capture the beauty of bucolic landscapes. Anna Boch resolutely takes her place in the post-impressionism of the end of the 19th century, and “will work throughout her life to defend her voice, her choices and her sex”, as the journalist from Connaissance des Arts writes.

Because Anna Boch is not only interested in producing works of art to sell, like In June (1894), her first painting purchased by the Belgian state. She also uses her fortune to buy works of art. To build a collection, eager to transmit while respecting the artists. To passionately support his penniless peers. Like Vincent Van Gogh for example, of whom she notably bought The Red Vine at Montmajour (1888) at the 1890 Salon des XX, after the symbolist painter Henry De Groux (1866-1930) insulted the Dutchman and refused to exhibit in the same room as him. Van Gogh took Eugène Boch as his model for the Poet, this famous starry portrait.

Although he only considered it as a “sketch”, Van Gogh also framed this work and we know that it hung for a time on the wall of his room in the Yellow House, since it appears in the first version of The Bedroom (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Hence the exceptional loan of this painting to the Pont Aven museum as part of the “150 years of Impressionism with the Orsay Museum (1874-2024)” season. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Impressionism, the Musée d'Orsay offered several museums in the region to lend emblematic works of art from its prestigious collection to create a chain of events and to dialogue with the territorial institutions interested in this proposal.

Anna Boch's acquisition of La Musique russe (1881) by James Ensor, “signs her freedom of taste and augurs a remarkable collection, composed of paintings by Paul Gauguin, Constantin Meunier, Emile Bernard, Paul Signac…

It was in March 1889 that Anna made a first founding purchase, despite the “sniggering of the crowd,”: Conversation. Brittany by Paul Gauguin exhibited at the XX. The Boch family's relationship with the artist does not end there. In 1890, to help him, Eugène Boch bought a lot of paintings to share at a very low price: “I think it will please this poor guy who nevertheless has so much talent! Today I reviewed at least thirty paintings from Boussod, Valadon & Cie, and I made the choice of five works with Bernard.” Moreover, Émile Bernard, a witness to these Boch purchases, complains of being constantly in need and in turn hopes to obtain support from the family: “If your sister wanted one of my paintings, she would do it for me. buy one. That […] would relieve me of great trouble,” he wrote to Eugène.

Anna Boch the painter, Anna Boch the collector, Anne Boch the rich patron, Anna Boch the free woman... Anna Boch crippled with rheumatism since 1905, who one day felt the end coming and who wrote her will in 1935, a year before her death , thanks to which Belgian museums will find themselves owners of paintings by Seurat, Gauguin and Signac, “all these elective affinities having refined the hand and sharpened the eye of Anna Boch”, writes Colin Lemoine. At the end of her life, Anna Boch's collection included more than 400 works of art which were partly bequeathed to museums, or to her goddaughter Ida van Haelewijn... when others arrived on the art market. art, where they will be sold at auction. I think that from where she is, this great lady is jubilant to see her life and her work traveling throughout the world, and circulating from Belgium to Brittany...


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Credits: Anna Boch, Cueillette, 1890 - Oil on canvas 74 x 107 cm - Private collection © Vincent Everarts
Vincent Van Gogh - Eugène Boch - In 1888 - Oil on canvas H. 60.3; L. 45.4 cm. Eugène Boch bequest through the Society of Friends of the Louvre Museum, 1941. © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandows

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