Fine Art

Emile Claus

Belgian, 1849-1924

Elms in a Landscape

Oil on canvas
23 1/4 inches x 29 1/2 x (59 x 75 cm)
Framed: 33 x 38 inches (84 x 97 cm)
Signed lower left: Emile Claus


Belgian noble family since the 1920s
Private collection, The Netherlands

Emile Claus was born to a large family in a small village called Sint-Eloois-Vijve. As a young boy he had a passion to become an artist but his father disapproved of this career path. Finally Claus did go to art school in Antwerp at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts from 1869-1874. There he learned the traditional style of painting. After the Academy he practiced painting portraits however after his travels to North Africa, Spain, and the United States he became more interested in the landscape genre. He returned to Belgium to live in Astene, but later moved to Paris. Claus stayed in Paris from 1889 to 1891, where he was confronted with more modern styles of painting and was influenced by the Impressionistic style, inspired by Monet. Claus soon became successful with one-man shows in Belgium and across Europe. His wide success led to his well-known painting, The Picnic (1887), purchased by the Belgian royal family. 

However his greatest impact on Belgian art history came in 1904 when he became a founding member of the Luminism also known as Vie et Luminaire (Life and Light). This movement concentrated on the effects light can have on a painting. Claus is considered the pioneer of Belgian Luminism and became known as the “sun painter”. This style enhanced his success in Europe.  Claus was forced to flee to London during World War I and there painted a series of views on the river Thames, known as Reflections on the Thames, his most traditional Impressionist work. He returned in 1918 to his home in Astene, where he lived and painted until he died in 1924.

This verdant landscape is an excellent example of Claus’ luminist style, and a symphony of golds and greens. Rows of stately elm trees continue on as far as the eye can see, their slender trunks standing tall and proud with gentle curves. Behind the canopy of lush leaves the sun is rising, indicated by the soft golden-yellow sky. The sun kisses the ground, luminous and warm. In the foreground, a path winds up the left side of the scene, ending abruptly in a hill. To the right, the grass slopes suddenly, perhaps indicating the bed of a stream. Even the artist’s soft brush strokes seem as warm and gentle as a sunrise.