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Rachel Baes (1912 -1983)

Rêve Très Ancien, 1947

The oeuvre of Baes focuses on the destiny of women and is predominantly inhabited by female figures. (Pursuing an interest in influential women, in the 1960s Baes even embarked on an important series of paintings on the theme of historical personages, and in particular Mary Antoinette, whose tragic destiny was a lifelong fascination). With its confined space and feeling of claustrophobia, this work – Reve Très Ancien –  permeates a similar sense of tragedy as the artist’s  The Philosophy Lesson (1963), and In the Polka (1946).

From 1946, Baes’ favourite subject became young girls. Strange, mysterious little things, dressed like dolls, they are depicted in airless rooms with an angst-ridden atmosphere and seem to subvert Breton’s cherished image of the child-woman, whose purity, and candidness he thought would facilitate access to the subconscious.  While her work and universe are similar to that of Dorothea Tanning, Leanora Carrington, or Leonor Fini, there is one main difference: her girls do not possess the erotic qualities these artists invested in. Juggling with ambiguity, as if heralding the terrible events of the artist’s own life, these little girls appear prey to invisible demonic forces and are condemned to a tragic fate. Not possessing, as Cocteau put it: ‘the full crimes of innocence’, the destructive nature of Baes’s girls evokes childish fears which reflect the artist’s own torments. As she informed Lecomte: “All my paintings come from the subconscious, from a slowness in the elaboration.” By creating doppelgängers, the artist also toys with the notion of identity.

x W65cm
Oil on canvas, Signed
Baes, Rachel

Rachel Baes (1912 -1983)

Rachel Baes (1912-1983) was a Belgian surrealist painter who was the daughter of the artist Émile Baes. She received no formal artistic training but began her career in 1929 when she exhibited works at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris to critical acclaim. Creating dreamlike worlds that evoked surrealism, often depicting lone women in interiors, she quickly became known for her distinctive surrealist style. Baes was of solitary nature. Although her work forms part of the surrealist domain, she refused to commit to the movement: "I am not a surrealist painter, I am a surrealist who paints” she wrote in her diary. A further statement testifies to her freedom- loving disposition: “My art of painting: poetry, rebellion, solitude”. This did not, however, prevent her from frequenting both the surrealist Circle in Brussels, and members of the French group. In the 1930s, she became a member of the surrealist group around René Magritte and counted among her friends André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard but also Max Ernst, Georges Bataille and Irène Hamoir. Between 1936 and 1940, Baes was in a relationship with Joris Van Severen, the leader of the extreme rightist Verdinaso party in Belgium. Van Severen was shot erroneously by French troops in 1940. In 1945, she met Paul Éluard and his wife Nusch, whose portrait she painted. The following year, Éluard published a poem in which he described Baes “As a lonely woman, who draws instead of talking”. She first encountered E.L.T Mesens and René Magritte through the poet, and art dealer Herman Toussaint in 1947. That same year, Magritte painted her portrait as Shéhérazade. An extravagant personality, Baes was also to act as his muse for some amateur films. Baes published a biography - Joris Van Severen, une âme - in 1965. From 1961 she retired from public life and lived alone in Bruges. She was buried at Abbeville, alongside Van Severen. In 2002, the Koninklijk Museum in Antwerp featured Baes alongside Jane Graverol in an exhibition: Voor Schone Kunsten.