Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
Through successive changes of style-from his more sombre early period to his later, dazzlingly colourful works, and from a flat, polished style to a vibrant handling influenced by Monet and Seurat-Le Sidaner's work was at all times characterised by a lyrical interpretation of light, manifested particularly in the melancholy of his twilight scenes. In the 1890s, he moved much closer to the Symbolist approach, his paintings glowing with a translucent luminosity reminiscent of Whistler, and often featuring evanescent female figures of a Pre-Raphaelite type.
The present painting was executed in Étaples, on the coast of northern France, where from 1882 onwards Le Sidaner spent long periods. The composition is based on the contrast between void and mass, between the cleared space and the dense forest. In the foreground, a broad stage-like area opens out, a flat circular zone painted with long, fluid brush-strokes. In the background is the dark mass of the trees, like heavy curtains, created with densely packed vertical strokes. Our attention is divided between the hut, sheltered and at the same time threatened by the forest, and the figure of the peasant woman who slowly walks towards it, her features hidden from us. Here, Le Sidaner exploits his favourite effect: an accent of artificial light in the atmosphere of evening. Standing out amongst the colours, dulled and veiled by the whiteish mist, is the blue of the hut's walls, and above all the little window, lit with a dot of yellow and red, a point of intense warmth which provides the focus for the sense of expectation in the scene.
The image evokes one of Baudelaire's prose poems entitled "Les fenêtres", from his Spleen de Paris: "There is no object more profound, more mysterious, more fertile, more sinister, more blinding than a window lit by candlelight. What can be seen by the light of the sun is always less interesting than what goes on behind glass. In that hole, black or luminous, life lives, life dreams, life suffers."