In January 1895,Henri Hucklenbroich acquainted himself with Henri Evenepoel who was also studying in Paris, and also a student of Moreau. Both were Belgians, and came from well to do families.
They became good friends who are not only painted, but also played music together. Evenepoel was a good amateur pianist, Huklenbrok was equally talented on the cello. They regularly played music together, pieces involving piano and cello sonatas but intended for the two instruments.
From Evenepoel’s own diary we read:
Hier, dimanche toute l’après-midi depuis 4 heures jusqu’à 8 heures (authentique) nous avons musique. Pièces arrangées de J.-S. Bach, deux morceaux de Papper et la fantaisie pour violoncelle et piano de Schumann, que je te recommande, qui est vraiment charmante.
Nous n’avions que cela comme musique. Dimanche prochain, il apporte les sonates de Mendeissohn. J’espère, le dimanche suivant avoir De Perthes (violoneur) et alors, en avant ! le trio du salon de Louise va faire concurrence à celui de tante Sophie !
Evenepoel and Huklenbrok became close friends, and both painted in what is called “a classic Flemish style” – sombre landscapes and still lifes. Both used earthy palettes, capturing moments as taught by their masters.
The classic Flemish style can be seen in later works of Peter Paul Rubens – a master whose style had become doctrine when teaching the new generation of artists.
Evenepoel would exhibit four artworks at La Salon Nationale in Paris. He was quickly becoming recognized and introduced to artists in many elite circles.
The Summer of 1895 would draw the Paris artists to Brittany. Henri Huklenbrok and Henri de Groux were visiting Beuzec-Cap-Sizun in Brittany. Later, Du Groux and Huklenbrok went to Pont Croix. Further afield lied the coastal island of Belle-Île.
Upon returning to school, event, there were more spectacles. The Accident at Montparnasse station was an impressive accident that attracted crowds. A train had burst through the very wall of the station, and collapsed onto the street below. Fortunately only one person was killed.
In March 1896, Evenepoel successfully submitted four paintings to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. His work was a combination of lithography and painting. Huklenbrok did sketch, but did not have any apparent skills in lithography, and continued to pursue his painting abilities.
During the 1870s and 1880s, French Impressionist painter Claude Monet painted the rock formations at Belle-Île. Monet’s series of paintings of the rocks at Belle-Île astounded the Paris art world when he first exhibited them in 1887. It was a natural progression for any artists flocking to the Brittany coast to consider a trip to Belle-Île.
They arrived on Belle-Île. and met Emile Wery and Henri Matisse. Matisse knew of both Huklenbrok and Evenepoel from Paris, and shared a desire to reflect upon their styles in challenging manner by painting the island of Belle-Île.
Huklenbrok found himself surrounded by artists trying to find new styles of paintings, and yet he was still confounded – He tried his hardest to move away from the classic style that he and Evenepoel had adopted.
Belle-Île ‘s vivid colors can be seen everywhere on the island, and the diversity must have been an extraordinary challenge to more somber palettes.
In the summer, Huklenbrok and Matisse returned to stay on Belle-Île . Once again, Wery accompanied them on the island, documenting the occasion. Unfortunately no documented photos of Huklenbrok are known at this time.
By 1896, several artists were frequenting Belle-Île, both literary and artistic in nature. Sarah Berndhardt had a guest retreat on the island. Huklenbrok and Matisse however sought learning rather than holidaymaking, and they headed West across the island.
They frequented John Peter Russell’s artist colony. Russell, an artist of was of Australian origin, had been living on the island since 1880. He built a house at the bay of Goulphar, known as le “Château anglais”. Russell had adopted a new coloring style which he taught to visiting artists on the island, inspired by Monet’s vivid use of colors in an impressionist context .
Russell introduced Matisse to impressionism and to the work of Van Gogh (who was relatively unknown at the time). Matisse’s style changed radically, and he would later say “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained color theory to me.”
Evenepoel began to seek out brighter colors in his paintings. As for Huklenbrok, he kept his traditional tones, more than likely in awe of his friends. Nonetheless it was a learning curve for the three Henris to experience, finding depth in the mix of colors and use of wilder strokes.
Huklenbrok, Matisse, and Evenepoel returned home for the autumn, back Paris to resume their studies.
It would be at this time, that Matisse would start his work on the Dinner Table – a portrait that would challenge the conventional judges of art at the time.
According to Evenepoel’s diary of February 1897,
Matisse,was pursuing an artistic style inspired by impressionism talking only of the techniques of Claude Monet.
Many critics of the Dinner Table challenged the mixture of classic composition and unconventional color choice.
Huklenbrok openly defended Matisse, supporting his colleague’s choice of artistic pursuit and experimentation.
In April 1897, Huklenbrok’s submitted 10 artworks for the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Art.
Henri’s father, Joseph, was becoming increasingly cynical of his son’s achievements. Joseph placed a bet with a Henri, stating that he would give him 200 francs if any picture was purchased.
Four pictures in total ( 2 drawings, and 2 paintings) were accepted that year, winning the rich bet against his father.
- Corner de l’intérieur
- Intérieur avec Nude
- Portrait de Femme
- Portrait d’un jeune homme
Henri, defiant in victory, decided to take Matisse and Evenepoel out for an extravagant dinner at the Restaurant Marguery with his winnings.
Evenepoel meticulously documented the event, going to describe their meal which consisted of Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Fillets of Sole in a white wine sauce, and for dessert, crèpes à la bordelaise. They also enjoyed two bottle of Vieux Pommard.
After the dinner, they went to the Folies-Bergère, leaving at one in the morning to go to the café Divan du Grand-Hôtel. They stayed there until three AM, then went for onion soup aux Halles, finally heading home at six in the morning. Evenepoel writes that he was hung over the next day and so tired that he fell asleep on his sketchbook in the Louvre.
Evenepoel ,in an effort to improve his health, made a visit to Algeria in November 1897. This would be a life-changing experience, and his paintings of Algeria would show that he had successfully learned to adopt a brighter palette.
1898 Evenepoel had not yet returned to Paris, and Matisse married Amélie Parayre in January of that year. It is unknown if Huklenbrok attended the wedding, but the Amelie’s family also stemmed from the wealthy industrial class, so it is presumed that Huklenbrok might have been able to use his connections to attend.
After Matisse and his wife left on their honeymoon, Huklenbrok was left alone to his musings. It is at this time that he may have visited Holland regularly to paint scenes in a style reminiscent of Van Gogh.
These travels may have been funded by his father, with Brussels being a mid-way point between Huklenbrok’s studio in Paris.
Without the influences of his friends, Evenepoel and Matisse, it would appear if Huklenbrok engaged in a style which used influences of bright colouration for exterior scenes, and reverted to a more conservative style when painting interior scenes. Dutch themes were used for the body of Huklenbrok’s work in 1898.
One of Huklenbrok’s paintings was accepted at Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The painting, known as “La Meuse à Dordrecht” would also be exhibited later that year at the Exposition Trienniale in Antwerp.
On Evenepoel’s return, it was clear that his travels had enlightened him, bringing to him to a new higher level of artistic pursuit. Bright colours were captured on his canvases. Matisse, residing in Corsica at the time, shared eccentric experiences with him when Evenepoel passed through the Mediterranean on his return to Paris.
He presented his artworks from exotic places such as Blidah with a warm reception from his contemporaries. Huklenbrok, remained on the fringes on these circles, but still did not meet his lucky break which guaranteed his success.
By the end of 1898, and throughout 1899, Paris was a city with protests and upturn. The Dreyfuss affair split France into two camps, and radical movements inspired by student protests, political manifestos, saturated the French press.
Émile Zola’s open letter to the French President Félix Faure denouncing the miscarriage of justice stirred up the French people to a sense of revolt and a demand for change. This demand for change reverberated in artistic and literary communities across France and the Benelux.
Artists and literary figures alike were changing and becoming more popular than the ruling classes.
In the summer of 1899, preparations were made for the the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Huklenbrok successfully submitted three paintings:
- Une viste automnale
- Vue de Versailles, en mars
- La mare aux canards (Hollande)
Evenpoel exhibited 8 paintings. The paintings were all well received, with mixed reviews, but nonetheless positive ones. Huklenbrok was well on his way to establishing himself as a promising artist.
Evenepoel and Huklebrok began discussing the idea of an exhibition in Brussels. The Cercle Artistique et Littéraire had already recognised Evenepoel’s talent, and the official confirmation of the booking of the halls was made by October of 1898.
The Cercle Artistique et Littéraire was based in the sumptuous surroundings of the Galeries Saint-Hubert, considered to the most elegant of all arcades in Europe at the time. Shortly after its opening in 1847, artists and authors such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas were regular visitors to the Cercle.
The prestige to have ones paintings shown at a private exhibition in the Galeries Saint-Hubert was no doubt an honour, and Evenepoel and Huklenbrok looked forward to the opportunity with great anticipation.
Invitations were handed out announcing the exhibition in early October. Critics, friends, and contemporaries would frequent the exhibition. It is unknown if Matisse attended, although it may be presumed that if he did, there would have been some mentions of it somewhere.
The Exhibition, which took place from the 4th to 13th November 1899 featured over 70 works from Evenepoel and Huklenbrok, and received reviews in several journals in Brussels and France.
M. Edmond Louis, writer for the Fédération Artistique, stated that Huklenbrok’s paintings conveyed a feeling of modernity in his landscapes and his exceptional ability with colours.
La-Libre-Critique contrasted Huklenbrok’s work to Evenepoels, describing it as “less striking” than Evenepoel’s brightly coloured paintings of Algeria. Although slightly blunt, the critic, a M. Biermé does add that his subjects are interesting, and that his still life, “nature mortes” is charming.
The review from L’Art Moderne is more encouraging. Huklenbrok is described as “seeking to recreate smooth lighting that enhances the colours used in his landscapes”. It also mentions that Huklenbrok is an exceptional colorist, with a very promising future.
The works would prove to be greatest pinnacle of Henri Huklenbrok’s life.Changes were in the air, and the promising future of Huklenbrok lay ahead. The end of the century would become a turning point in Huklenbrok’s life in more ways than one.