De Cock, César (1823-1904)

De Cock, César (1823-1904)

Biography

Born the son of a tailor, Xavier and his brother César underwent a difficult period after the early death of their father. He followed lessons at the academy from 1830-1835. Thanks to the financial assistance of a cloth merchant, he was then able to complete his schooling in Antwerp. He debuted at the triennial exhibition in Antwerp already in 1837. Until 1845, he repeatedly sent work to the official Belgian exhibitions.

In the meantime, he had become a known figure in Ghent. In 1840, he helped establish the Kunstgenootschap, an association for the promotion of young, penniless artists. Some years later César De Cock would also become a member of the association.

In 1852, Xavier, in the company of a friend, made a trip to Normandy, and via Paris ended up in Barbizon. He became acquainted with the Mélingue family, with whom he was able to move in. In no time, De Cock had integrated himself in the artistic life of Paris. Xavier certainly enjoyed success in Paris.

When Xavier De Cock settled in Deurle-part of Sint-Martens-Latem-in 1860, he laid the foundations for the artists’ village. Around the same time, he became friends with Albijn Van den Abeele, the town clerk of Sint-Martens-Latem.

At that moment, De Cock was a prominent painter in Belgium and abroad; thus he was received at the Paris exhibition as a celebrated landscape painter from Barbizon. De Cock probably spent the winters in Paris, but spring and summer always found him in Deurle. His French fame also spread to Belgium, and in Count Henri ‘t Kint de Roodenbeke-resident of the nearby castle of Ooidonk-he had an influential supporter of his work.

After 1865, Xavier preferred Belgian artistic life and exhibited frequently at the exhibitions in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent. Successfully, for in 1862 the Ghent Museum for the Fine Arts purchased De Meersstraatin Ghent. The woods and meadows around Ghent were an important source of studies for the artist. However, he continued to send his work to Paris, where he was represented each year at the exhibition.

Body of work

The call of nature first held great attraction for Xavier De Cock. In his Ghent period, he felt strongly oppressed by the local conservative milieu. At that moment, he was a prominent practitioner of the pastoral landscape, the nostalgic, fantasised landscapes of Romanticism.

Under the influence of Jean-François Millet and the artists of Barbizon, he focused on reproducing nature itself. Composition and balance now made way for observation. Xavier, however, did not convert to the detail-realism of his brother César. Like his brother, however, he would seek out the so-called underwood. With the rich gradations of the foliage in the background-from yellow and green to brown-contrary to César, he always placed people and animals in the limelight. Technically, he employed a loose touch, which he borrowed from his French role models. The play of (filtered) light and shadow reveals, however, a Northern artist, who depicted rural Flanders in dreamy, hazy scenes.

He no doubt romanticised the landscape. Finally, he was also a townsman who tried with endearing astonishment to fathom the woody surroundings of Sint-Martens-Latem. Xavier De Cock developed himself into a painter of animals, and was able to attract a Belgian audience to his work. Characteristic is that an author such as Karel van de Woestijne would report decades later on the romantic feeling of De Cock, on his free and relaxed manner of working, the return to nature “with the happy-amazed sincerity of a child,” which Xavier was able to retain “until the end of his dogged seventy-eight year life.”

Bibliography

** Veerle van Doorne, Retrospectieve tentoonstelling Xavier De Cock (1818-1896), Cesar De Cock (1823-1904), Gustave Den Duyts (1850-1897) , Deinze, Museum van Deinze en Leiestreek, 1988.
** Piet Boyens, Flemish Art, Symbolism to Expressionism, Tielt – Sint-Martens-Latem, Lannoo – Art Book Company, 1992.
** Johan De Smet, Sint-Martens-Latem en de Kunst aan de Leie 1870-1970, Tielt – Zwolle, Lannoo – Waanders, 2000.

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