Charles Doudelet (1861-1938)

Past Exhibition: Illustrations and Book Design for ‘Douze Chansons’ by Maurice Maeterlinck.

 

a. Charles Doudelet –Maurice Maeterlinck.

 

Charles Doudelet was born in Lille (France) on the 8th of February 1861. His father, Ferdinand Doudelet, was a mechanic who held a key function in a textile factory in that city. His mother, Sophie Synaeve van Hyfte, was, as her husband, from Flemish descent. After a short stay in Gent (Belgium) the family returned to Lille, where in 1877 Doudelet’s father died. Both mother and sixteen year old Charles returned to live in Gent, where the young boy combined his studies with a job to provide for the family. In the end this combination proved to be too harsh for Charles and he decided to quit his studies and start working for the water supplies company of the city of Gent. After working hours Charles took classes at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1882 Doudelet became unemployed but a chance encounter with the then famous photographer Edmond Sacré opened doors to employment at the Gent University. Doudelet worked for professor Emile Van Ermengem and was asked to reproduce the findings of this eminent bacteriologist through microscopic small drawings. His renderings were crowned with a silver medal at a Paris exhibition in 1894 and a gold one in Bordeaux the following year.
In 1887 Doudelet is supposed to have exhibited drawings in the University’s exhibition hall. We were unable to find any reference as to this first public exhibition of his art, but it is also possible that he exhibited together with the members of a newly formed artists’ collective called “Wij Willen” [We Want] who had their first show in that year at the same venue. Doudelet is not mentioned in the exhibition catalogue, but befriended some of the members, hence that possibility.


Doudelet’s showing had a tremendous result. The city of Gent provided him with a grant that enabled him to travel to Paris and Italy. Doudelet made the trip to Italy with Constant Montald, another artist from Gent and winner of the Rome Prize of that year. Back in Gent in 1888, Doudelet was obliged to stage an exhibition with works from his Italian study trip. He showed drawings after the Italian ducento and trecento artists and after Botticelli. In 1890 Doudelet participated in the ‘Prix de Rome’ competition, but without success. The competition was held in Antwerpen, and the artist had the opportunity to meet Constantin Meunier. Doudelet decided to take some lessons with Meunier, who, according to Doudelet, opened his eyes to the understanding of drawing the human figure.
Walking around at the Gent Salon of 1892, Doudelet encountered Louis De Busscher, son of a well known editor. De Busscher invited him to attend a meeting of young writers that were trying to found a new literary magazine. Founded by the brothers Lucien and Louis de Busscher, Albert Guéquier and possibly Grégoire Le Roy, “Le Réveil” (1892-1895) would be one of the most important symbolist magazines in Belgium. The magazine collaborated with Grégoire Le Roy, Charles Van Lerberghe and Maurice Maeterlinck. It was in this circle of friends that Doudelet was invited and met with both Grégoire Le Roy and Maurice Maeterlinck. Doudelet described Grégoire Le Roy as:

“[…] ce  poète, à la fois peintre, un peu sculpteur et musicien ... il s'occupait surtout de l'électricité ... faisait partie du cénacle M. Maeterlinck, Charles Van Lerberghe, les frères de Busscher, Albert Guéquier et moi-même. Nous avions fondé une revue littéraire « le Réveil »“

So the artist considered himself as one of the founders of the magazine and also saw Van Lerberghe and Maeterlinck as founders. Clearly not historically correct, this passage shows to which extent these writers and the painter-illustrator, felt in common. Doudelet was drawn to Maeterlinck’s writing. Van Lerberghe and Le Roy didn’t live in Gent anymore, but Maeterlinck did and he had an enormous influence on the young artist even before the two men had met. In a review published in “La Flandre Libérale” of the 27th of November, a critic sees in the paintings of Constant Montald and Charles Doudelet a visual representation of the Maeterlinck (theatrical) literature. Whereas Montald moves in a different direction all together, the symbolism of Doudelet grows closer and closer to the Maeterlinck world as both men start to know each other.
Maeterlinck commissions Doudelet to paint six mural paintings for the family chateau in Oostakker around 1895 and in that year Maeterlinck asks Doudelet for a portrait drawing to be published in “Les Hommes d’Aujourd’hui”. Doudelet is also responsible for an illustration for “La Mort de Tintagiles” in a booklet for the “Théâtre de l’Oeuvre” in Paris, also in 1895.
Doudelet was not Maeterlinck’s first choice to illustrate his new collections of “Songs”, the writer apparently preferred George Minne with whom he already had published two illustrated volumes. As Minne was unable to deliver the illustrations on time, Maeterlinck asked Doudelet in February 1896 to illustrate “Douze Chansons”. The writer never repented his choice and in a letter to Doudelet’s widow, written in 1939 and regarding the slightly reworked version of the songs, he stated:

“[…] a mon avis, c’est le chef-d’oeuvre de Charles, et, pour mieux dire, un chef-d’oeuvre tout court; synchronisation, harmonie parfaite entre le poète et les images creées par son intreprète. […] »

 

b. Charles Doudelet and ‘Douze Chansons’.

 

It is indeed peculiar that both the writer and the young artist were thinking along the same lines. Doudelet found in Maeterlinck a kindred spirit. He wrote:

"De tout temps, […] je me suis mis au courant de la littérature moderne et, dès l'éveil de la jeune école belge, j'en fus un lecteur assidu, souvent un admirateur. Je suis complètement imprégné de la jeune littérature et j'en ai subi le charme. C'est donc par hasard et selon le caprice des lectures que je connus les œuvres de Maurice Maeterlinck. Aussitôt mon admiration entière lui fut acquise. Je fus épris dès les premiers vers  de ce genre original, rempli de poésie pure, vague, émotionnante, apportant à l'âme des sensations nouvelles, élevant nos pensées dans des rêves inconnus, leur ouvrant des horizons infinis. J'illustre ses œuvres avec conviction, avec amour. J'éprouve un délice inouï à comprendre, à saisir complètement l'idée du poète, à la fixer pour la vue. J'ai lu Maeterlinck, j'ai vu son œuvre puissant; j'ai donné une forme réelle à ce qu'avait fait deviner Maeterlinck. Ai-je réussi oui ou non? Je ne veux retenir qu'un hommage rendu à mes efforts qui outrepasse tous les autres et efface les sarcasmes dont j'ai été abreuvé: le jeune littérateur lui-même s'est montré satisfait.
Tout est simple dans ma manière de rendre la pensée du poète; peu ou pas de meubles dans mes intérieurs, rien d'inutile dans mes paysages. Un lit seul, une table isolée, une chaise sans compagne, une plante, un arbre, un rocher s'y trouvent. Mais c'est qu'alors ils sont nécessaires. Alors ils dominent, attirent les regards, parlent, dévoilent complètement dans toute son étendue la raison de leur présence et provoquent la sensation voulue. N'est-ce pas la méthode de Maeterlinck qui, dans l'Intruse, fait parler tous les objets et, par leur agencement, parvient à l'effet final de la pièce? La ligne de mes dessins n'est ni romane, ni gothique; elle se ressent de l'époque primitive, mais cependant est crée. Les maisons basses et profondes, les fenêtres coupées, les dalles des corridors et les détails les accessoires de ces dessins évoquent à l'esprit l'idée de l'au delà. Dans le poème, dans la chanson, Maeterlinck cherchait cette sensation, je l'ai précisée."

 

Doudelet really felt one with the poetry and atmosphere of Maeterlinck but decided not to go for a too literary representation of the text. Instead he opted for an image that had the same character and feel as the songs. The architecture of the book: illustration – text – ‘cul de lampe’ imposes on the reader a certain rhythm, that enforces the slow movement in Maeterlinck’s poetry.
Although Doudelet’s book design of ‘Douze Chansons’ is a masterpiece, two poems and illustrations are printed vertically, thus breaking somewhat the unity and rhythm of the book. Was this a deliberate effect, or just a mistake of a beginning artist? None of the contemporary or recent critics seem to have taken note of this oddity, which disappears in the 1929 edition.
The 1929 edition of the ‘Douze Chansons’ remains a little bit of a mystery. Published by the Brussels based Edition Aryenne, Maeterlinck himself seems not to have been involved in the project. It seems to have been a project emanating form Doudelet himself, maybe to ‘update’ his old masterpiece into a new one. Both the black and white as the deluxe edition are printed in a larger format, which allows Doudelet to play with the page spread, as he used the original clichés of the 1896 edition (except for the two vertical illustrations, which he adapted into the horizontal format). The illustration and the ‘cul de lampe’ are put on the same page, opposite of the text, which is in a different type than the 1896 edition. Art Deco in style, Doudelet was probably forced to use a type that the printer Goossens had in stock. Each song is now preceded by the first line of that song, printed in red on a blank page opposite of which Doudelet uses a new illustration, also in relation to the song. 

On the whole the 1929 book looks and feels more luxurious, more in accord with the rising of the fame and fortune of Maeterlinck himself. More importantly, it shows how Doudelet’s book design has improved through the years. The book design is throughout evenly balanced and has an almost classical aura. The new front cover illustration, printed in gold, is reminiscent of an Egyptian motif. On the whole, the 1929 edition shuns away from the nebulous symbolism of the nineties and moves into the clear and harsh light of modernism.

 

c. Technical details.

 

1. M. Maeterlinck/ Ch. Doudelet, ‘Douze Chansons’, Paris 1896.

Edited by: P.-V. Stock, Palais-Royal, Paris
Printed by: Louis Van Melle, Gent.
Date:  1896.

One of 600 copies, “Il a été tiré 600 exemplaires papier Ingres”, this book professionally restored, with new hard cover binding, front page preserved, without the usual ‘décharges’ of the illustrations onto the opposite page. Good copy.

Provenance: from an important private collection, Belgium.

 

2. M. Maeterlinck/ Ch. Doudelet, ‘Douze Chansons’, Bruxelles 1929.

Edited by: Editions Aryenne, Bruxelles; M. De Behogne & A. Nile.
Printed by: J.-E. Goossens, under the direction of Mr. Edmond Gregoir.
Date:  1929.

One of 75 copies on Arches, this copy numbered 66, in almost perfect condition. Very fine copy.

Provenance: According to the owner’s inscription on the page opposite to the title, this copy was owned by Carmen Duparc, one of the favourite actresses of French writer Paul Claudel. Carmen Duparc played in numerous theatre and film productions in both Paris and Brussels.

 

3. M. Maeterlinck/ Ch. Doudelet, ‘Douze Chansons’, Bruxelles 1929.

Edited by: Editions Aryenne, Bruxelles; M. De Behogne & A. Nile.
Printed by: J.-E. Goossens, under the direction of Mr. Edmond Gregoir.
Date:  1929.

An unrecorded artist’s proof, this copy on Japon nacré blanc à la cuve’, all illustrations hand coloured by Doudelet, with a complete suite of the black and white illustrations on chine, apart from the edition of 25 copies and 10 ‘hors commerce’ copies. In almost perfect condition.

Provenance: Acquired by an important private collector from a member of the Doudelet family.

 

4. M. Maeterlinck/ Ch. Doudelet, ‘Douze Chansons’, Bruxelles 1896 (?)

Edited by: P.-V. Stock, Palais-Royal, Paris
Printed by: Louis Van Melle, Gent.
Date:  1896.

Two sets of printer’s proofs, comprising two songs with illustrations and ‘cul de lampe’, printed on a folded sheet, partly uncut. A rare survivor of the printing process of the ‘Douze Chansons’ book by printer Louis Van Melle.

Provenance: From an important private collection, Belgium.

 

d. Selective Bibliography.

 

Hozee R., Verleysen C., e.a., De Wereld van George Minne & Maurice Maeterlinck, Brussel, Mercatorfonds, 2011.

Cagianelli Fr., Charles Doudelet pittore incisore e critico d’arte Dal « Leonardo » a « L’Eroica », Firenze, L.S. Olschki, 2009

Laoureux D., Maurice Maeterlinck et la dramaturgie de l’image – Les arts et les lettres dans le symbolisme en Belgique, Anvers, Pandora, 2008.

Leten S., Charles Doudelet illustrateur – Mémoire de Licence ULB, Bruxelles, 1979.

Univers Maeterlinck, Bruxelles, Théâtre National de Belgique, 28/10-21/11/1976.

Charles Doudelet

Charles Doudelet

Illustration for Douze Chansons by Maurice Maeterlinck