Le bain des vagabonds
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
In the painting ‘Le bain des vagabonds’ we see boys swimming: they are diving into the water, climbing out of it, or resting on the canal bank. People are walking over a bridge, going about their daily business. A horse and a cart are passing by behind the bridge. In the background we can see houses, a factory chimney and three large white buildings. The action is depicted in a drawing-like manner. Most of the figures and objects are outlined in black and painted without a great deal of detail or shading. With the exception of the strikingly different brown section under the bridge, the colour palette is predominantly blue-grey. The yellow of the dome and of the smoke in the top right of the picture, together with the flesh colour of the swimmers and the chimney liven up the painting in a subtle way.
All elements of the painting relate directly to Brusselmans’s personal world. The bathers in the foreground recall his childhood memories of swimming with his brother in the canal in Anderlecht. A photograph dating from around 1930 features many of the elements we see in this painting. However, it doesn’t have any people or large buildings in it. Brusselmans also illustrates the day-to-day life of ordinary working people and three striking Brussels buildings: the Sint Goedelekerk, the City Hall and the Palace of Justice.
The artist deliberately chooses his lines, colour fields, direction and method of application because of the expressive value they embody. Brusselmans’s work is considered to be Flemish expressionism. A key characteristic of this movement is an interest in everyday life. In his paintings, Brusselmans combines construction and expression, drawing and painting gesture, stillness and movement into an image replete with concentrated tension.
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