PERMEKE Constant
( 1886-1951). Belgian painter; born in Antwerp; died at Jabbeke, near Bruges. Permeke attended courses at the Academies of Bruges and Ghent before settling in Laethem-Saint-Martin, the cradle of Flemish Expressionism, in 1909. He belonged to the second Laethem group with Servaes, van den Berghe and the Smet brothers. Severely wounded at Antwerp in 1914, he was evacuated to England. He returned to Belgium after the hostilities. He worked successively in Antwerp, Ostend and finally at Jabbeke, where he spent the last twenty-five years of his life. At first influenced by Impressionism ( Winter in Flanders, 1912), his work drifted toward the baroque as early as 1913, the baroque peculiar to a generation of Belgian artists, among whom Permeke was the central figure. His English landscapes, seascapes of Ostend, harbour scenes, fishermen's homes, studies of peasants, views of Flanders, nudes, all bear the stamp of his plebeian temperament, rough, jovial and powerful. No one has represented Flemish Expressionism better than Permeke: by his physical health, his muscularity, his dynamism, as well as by his elemental, monumental vision of Nature and man. There is nothing artificial, studied or cerebral in canvases such as The Caravan, The Harvester, Green Seascape and many others, in which the artist placed rough, full forms, titanic figures, encircling them with a thick stroke, colouring them on a very sober scale of heavy, dark tones. Indifferent to light, he wanted to exalt the human and, in the human, the vigour of muscles, the vitality of the people, everyday toil, all that man receives from the soil: the strength of instinct, generosity of the heart, humble and patient devotion. And this with the resources of the earth, the colours of earth. Passionately devoted to the plastic, he was quite naturally led to sculpture, beginning in 1936. But his modelling is no more than the solid, massive, summary forms contained in his canvases transposed into clay. Permeke was the faithful interpreter of his race, his native country, in a period of artistic renewal. He was a Flemish painter with absolute sincerity. He was an Expressionist painter without preciosity, without mannerism, with great naturalness. This is why his proletarian giants, his colossal effigies, his huge constructions, achieve a virile, wholehearted grandeur. One therefore pardons him his total lack of finesse, elegance, charm. He was a proud workman of painting, one of the very few Expressionists to have spared us a display of their sufferings or their despair.
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