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EUGENE VERBOECKHOVEN (BELGIAN, 1798-1881)

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Eugene Verboeckhoven was born in Warneton on June 8th of 1798 to Bartholomew Verboeckhoven (Flemish, 1754-1840). His father was a sculptor and tutored Eugene and his brother Charles-Louis Verboeckhoven (Belgian, 1802-1889) in his studio on modeling figures with clay. When Eugene was 18, in 1816 the Verboeckhoven family moved to Ghent, where he continued his study of sculpture under Albert Voituron at the Academy of Fine Arts.

By 1818, his total focus was on painting and he studied under Balthazar-Paul Ommeganck, a landscape painter. It was under his tutelage that the foundations for his career would begin forming, as Ommeganck introduced him to the Dutch and Flemish animal painters of the 17th century and the classical landscape painters Poussin and Lorraine. Just two years later, in 1820, he would exhibit at Salon in Ghent to glowing critical reviews. It also was the start of nearly a decade of travel throughout Europe. He spent some time in Paris, where he would also debut his first international exhibit at the Salon of 1824, an important move that would open his work up to the larger international market of collectors. In 1824 he exhibited in Brussels Salon a painting of Landscape with Herdsman and Cattle, which was acquired almost immediately by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. He would continue to exhibit at the Brussels Salon from 1827 through 1860. His paintings exhibited at Brussels Salon, Flock of Sheep Taken Unawares by a Storm (1839) and Recollection of the Roman Countryside (1843), would be exhibited again just shortly before his death at the Brussels Salon of 1880. Both are now in the collection of the Brussels Museum.

He continued his journeys, in 1826 visiting Great Britain, in 1828 Germany and also Holland. During these trips he would collect extensive journals of sketches, capturing landscapes, animals and figures that he would later be able to work into his paintings. He ended his decade of travel upon his move to Brussels, whereby he became deeply involved in the struggle for Belgian independence from the Netherlands, ultimately fighting in the successful war. In the 1830s he established his own studio where he began accepting students and in 1831 he was appointed by the temporary government as Director General of the Brussels Museums of Fine Arts.

His work caught the eye of Leopold I and in 1832 he was commissioned to paint the Queen’s dog. It is not known how many paintings were acquired by Leopold I, but during an inventory of the Royal Palace in Laeken it was documented that Leopold’s private drawing room hosted one of his paintings. His success was unusual and at the young age of 34 his first biography was written (1833), the same year that he was named a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold. He would later accept a commission from Leopold for an equestrian portrait in 1852.

He exhibited at Lille in 1834 and won a gold medal. Like many of his contemporaries, Verboeckhoven was a mason, joining the Brussels Lodge of Freemasons in 1834 with his brother. It was during this same period that he completed one of his most famous works, Hungry Wolves Attacking Travelers (1836), which was then acquired by the Rijksmuseum.

In the 1840s Verboeckhoven began traveling again, this time also heading to France, then in 1841 traveling to Italy before going to Switzerland and Scotland. The variety of landscapes in his repertoire were greatly expanded through this period, giving him materials that he would reportedly arrange and rearrange like a jigsaw until he could compose the perfect scene.

In 1845 he accepted a teaching post at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts upon his return to Brussels. Through most of the 1860s he served as Deputy Mayor for Schaerbeek Council in Brussels.

Like the masters that came before him, Verboeckhoven was known to achieve the vibrant blues in his skies by grounding lapis lazuli and mixing it into his paints. His ability to translate the countryside into romanticized glimpses of the “golden years” resonated particularly well with city-dwelling clients, where the outdoors were made tidy and tamed, idealized within a frame that could be visited from the comfort of the parlor.

Ultimately, Verboeckhoven was a businessman and the pricing of Eugene Verboeckhoven’s work created a firmness in the market that was as nearly quotable as currency. This is recounted in "Popular 19th Century Painting" (Hook & Poltimore) whereby a visiting client was interested in a scene with a mother ewe and her two lambs. When asked the price, Verboeckhoven responded “A thousand francs for the ewe and two hundred per head of lamb”. As this was more than the client could afford, he nearly walked away disappointed, but Verboeckhoven replied, “Never mind, I’ll make it two hundred francs cheaper” and promptly painted out one of the lambs.

Followers of Verboeckhoven produced work of excellent quality, though without commanding the high sums of his work, satisfying the budgets of a clientele that was incredibly interested in this variety of painting but could not afford the price. These would include Cornelius van Leemputten, van Severdonck, van Dieghem, Remy Maes and Verhoesen.

He was also a capable aquafortist and produced a prolific body of work; tackling all of the genres, he illustrated the “Fables of La Fontaine” and the “Popular Scenes of Henri Monnier”. In addition to the Order of Leopold, he achieved the distinctions of the Cross of the Légion d’Honneur, the Order of Christ of Portugal, and the Iron Cross of Germany. He was known to work in partnership with the great painters of his era, a common practice where each would contribute their speciality to a fellow artist’s work. His popularity led to forgeries even during his lifetime and around the 1850s he began placing labels on the back of his paintings to assist in authenticating the works; around the same time, he is known to have put a triangular motif in his signature, a tribute to his closely held Mason philosophies.

He continued living in Schaerbeek through his death on January 19th of 1881 at the age of 83 as one of the most well-respected and admired painters of his generation. His work are held in museums around the world, notably including the Brussels Museum, the Leuven Museum, the Antwerp Museum, the Ghent Museum, the Kortrijk Museum, the Liége Museum as well as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Louvre in Paris, the Luxembourg Museum, the Leningrad Museum, and the Valenciennes Museums among many others.

Literature & Further Reading:

  • E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. XIV, Gründ, 2006, p. 144-146
  • Dictionary of Belgian Painters born between 1750 & 1875, Berko, 1981, p.738-40
  • Popular 19th Century Painting: A Dictionary of European Genre Painters, Hook & Poltimore, 1986