Constant Permeke, De woonwagen, 1927, Privéverzameling, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Het dagelijkse brood, 1950 Collection MuZEE, Oostende Fotograaf: niet vermeld, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Flemish Expressionist of the Working Class

Constant Permeke, Moederschap, 1936 Collection MuZEE, Oostende Fotograaf: Danny de Kievith, Oostende, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, De Sjees, 1926, Collection MuZEE, Oostende Fotograaf : AD-ART Sint-Amandsberg, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Aardappelrooister, 1929, Collection MuZEE, Oostende, Fotograaf : Devos, Boulogne-sur-mer, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Marie-Lou, 1939, Collectie, Middelheimmuseum Antwerpen, © SABAM 2012.


Rue Ravenstein 23
+ 02 507 82 00
Constant Permeke

October 11, 2012-January 20, 2013

The last major retrospective devoted to Constant Permeke took place in The Hague in 2004, so it is high time for a tribute to this distinctive Flemish expressionist.

Permeke, who died 60 years ago in Ostend, had a unique empathy with the hard lives of fishermen and peasants, working people with an intimate bond with the land and the sea. By enlargement and abstraction, Permeke created archetypes with a universal character.

Permeke was born in Antwerp but when he was six years old the family moved to Ostend, where his father became curator of the Municipal Museum of Arts. Permeke went to school in Bruges from 1903 until 1906, when he was drafted into the Belgian army. He served in a university company in Sint-Martens-Latem. After military service Permeke returned to Ostend in March 1908 where he roomed together with another artist, Gustave De Smet but in 1909 he returned to Latem where he lived as a recluse. His work of this period is characterized by his heavy brush. In 1912 Permeke married Maria Delaere and the newlyweds settled in Ostend. His work from this period gains its expressive force through muted tonality and brutal forms.

When World War I started, Permeke was mobilized and during the defense of Antwerp he was wounded in action near the town of Duffel. His wounds forced him to be evacuated to the United Kingdom where he was in hospital at South Hillwood. After his release from hospital he was reunited with his family in Folkestone, where his son John was born. In 1916 he moved to Chardstock in Devonshire and started painting again, mostly colorful English landscapes. After the end of the war, the Permeke family returned to Ostend in 1919. In contrast to the happy time in Devonshire, the harsh reality of the worker's life turned Permeke's work back to a gloomier mood as he mainly painted the harsh fisherman's life.

In 1921 Permeke was able to exhibit his work in Antwerp and in Paris. In 1926 Permeke went to Vevey in Switzerland where he mainly painted mountain scenes. In 1929 he moved to Jabbeke. During this period he changed his subject: instead of the fisherman and the sea he now focused on the farmer and his land. During this period, Permeke was enormously productive with works like Gouden Oogst (1935), De Grote Marine (1935), Moederschap (1936), Het Afscheid (1948), Dagelijks Brood (1950). Starting in 1937 Permeke tried his hand at sculpting as well. As a sculptor, Permeke tried to isolate the human figure in monumental efforts. De Zaaier (1939), Niobe (1946) and De Drie Gratiën (1949) are good examples of this period.

During World War II, Permeke was forbidden to paint by the German occupiers as his art was seen by them as Entartete Kunst. Privately, things were even worse as his son Paul was arrested and sent to Germany as a forced labourer. After the war, Permeke was appointed director of the National higher Institute and of the Royal Academy in Antwerp but after only one year he offered his resignation. In 1947-48, Permeke had a big retrospective exhibition in Paris but his happiness at the return of his son was soon shattered when in 1948 his wife died. Emotionally scarred and ailing, Permeke had to be nursed by his daughter.

During the last period of his life his work mellowed somewhat as it shows much more refinement in drawing and colors. His last works are De dame met de rode handschoenen (1951) and some landscapes painted in Brittany. After his trip to Bretagne in 1951, his health declined even further and he became bedridden.

Constant Permeke diedJanuary 4, 1952. Four days later he was buried next to his wife at the cemetery in Jabbeke. On the grave of his beloved wife was placed a statue which Permeke had commissioned by his friend George Minne..

In 1997, Belgium recognized Permeke's achievements by dedicating the 1,000 franc (~ 25 euro) bill to him and his work. The bill was used until Belgium adopted the euro in 2002.

An impressive selection of 130 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, including many key works, reveals every facet of Permeke’s oeuvre: female nudes, land and sea, fishermen and peasants in their everyday lives. Believing that Permeke deserves wider international recognition alongside his contemporaries, BOZAR intends to take this retrospective far beyond the borders of Belgium.

New landscapes by Thierry De Cordier and nudes by Marlene Dumas underline Permeke’s contemporary relevance.

Curator of the exhibition is Willy Van den Bussche, Honorary Chief Conservator of PMMK Oostende and PMCP Jabbeke.

Constant Permeke, Zelfportret, 1940, Collection MuZEE, Oostende Fotograaf: Hugo Maertens, Brugge, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Buveurs de café, KMSKA, foto LukasArt in Flanders.

Constant Permeke, Leonie, 1929-32, Privéverzameling, Fotograaf: Hugo Maertens, Brugge, © SABAM 2012.

Constant Permeke, Over Permeke, 1922, Collection MuZEE, Oostende Fotograaf : niet vermeld, © SABAM 2012.