It is always a rare moment when a work by George Le Brun appears on the market. The artist is one of these confidential symbolist masters who died young and who left behind a small number of works, strongly looked after by collectors and curators worldwide. Le Brun is known as “Le Peintre des Fagnes”, then a desolated flat plateau, covered by stunted vegetation, hardly growing on wet peat. He is a key figure of the Verviers School. He lived most of his life in isolated villages in the Ardennes and depicted in his works the life of these rural region. He died at the front in 1914, he was 41 years old. His family, which kept most of his works and archives, in collaboration with the Félicien Rops Museum, published a first catalogue raisonné in 2015. Little Girl (Interior) is catalogued as one of the drawings realized in 1895 when he lived in the village of Xhoffraix, at the border of the Fagnes. He moved there the year before, and immediately integrated the village’s life, such as Léon Frédéric did in Nafraiture. Compared to Constantin Meunier or Eugène Laermans, Le Brun’s representation of the peasant life was not heroic or social. He was fascinated by the traditions and the immutable ways of this kind of existence, in opposition with the fast pacing changing cities. Closer to the art of Millet, he illustrated the eternal and ancestral rhythm of this region. Often drawn in charcoal, the “Noirs” of Le Brun, such as this drawing, are a hymn to the silence and the still life of the countryside.
The Little Girl, is an important work as it shows the evolution of Le Brun’s vision. First, interested by the personalities which inhabited the village, Le Brun portrayed the workers, the men and women in their everyday life activities. Then, progressively, the figures became silhouette, almost shadows, such as in the two works in the Orsay Museum collection: Lecture le Soir and Le Vestibule. Finally, he removed any form of presence, to show empty interiors. With the same poetry and finesse of a Vilhelm Hammershoi, Le Brun captured the beautiful geometry and luminous atmosphere of tranquil interiors. In 1895, the year of this drawing, Xavier Mellery exhibited at La Libre Esthétique, in Brussels, his famous series of drawings entitled L’Âme des Choses. Only views of rooms, corridors, and objects, completely silent and without any presence. Le Brun most probably visited this Salon and was influenced by Mellery’s aesthetic. The Little girl is still there, but she already seems absent, completely still in the corner, almost hiding, and surrounded by the solid angles, and dark shapes composing the interior. Outside, the window is blind, only the light seems to animate the scene. The influence of the 17th century Dutch painting, which was popular at the time, adds to the charm of this drawing.