After study in his native Belgium, Henri Evenepoel (1872-1899) settled in Paris in 1892. The young painter was admitted to the studio of Gustave Moreau, where he befriended Henri Matisse. His canvases were largely portraits and interiors, and he also became an accomplished printmaker. In 1897 Evenepoel bought a Pocket Kodak, calling it a “real gem.” Fascinated by the mechanism, he learned to do his own developing and printing. Evenepoel occasionally used his photographs as studies for his paintings, but he usually took pictures to experiment with novel images, record the contents of his studio, or capture images of his family. His photographs of his son Charles are a tender record of a loving father and sensitive artist. Of his vacation photographs of 1897, he wrote: “I savor them with the slightly sad joy of reflecting that all this good time is past.” Evenepoel died of typhoid in 1899 at age 27, having taken nearly 875 photographs in two and a half years. While the negatives were preserved, no original prints are known to exist.
Louise at Wépion, summer 1897, Modern gelatin silver print, 2011 and The White Hat, 1897, Oil on canvas.
Evenepoel acquired his camera in 1897, two and a half years before his death. Yet in that short period, he made frequent use of it. A summer vacation in the Belgian countryside provided ample opportunity for the artist to experiment with the device. This photograph of Louise, the mother of Evenepoel’s illegitimate child Charles de Mey (1894-1964), is one of many souvenirs of their 1897 holiday in Wépion. Louise wears a blue and white printed frock and plumed hat in the snapshot that inspired a painting of the same year – The White Hat. The painting, however, removes the sitter from her pleasant outdoor venue and alters her contented air.