Snapshot at Van Gogh - Henri Evenepoel




2 minutes reading

A snapshot. Popularly defined as a photograph that is shot spontaneously and quickly without any specific intent. A phenomenon, which started in 1888 when George Eastman introduced the first handy Kodak camera. The camera was warmly welcomed by 7 artists, collectively known as the Nabis group, who believed that every work of art was a transposition, a caricature and the impassioned equivalent of a sensation experienced. This was reflected in the composition of their canvas; figures looming in the foreground radically foreshortened in the background and cropped unexpectedly with skilled light and dark manipulation. Something like the content of a photograph.

Henri Evenepoel
A distinct practitioner of this, Henri Evenepoel (Belgium, 1872 – 1899) was known for his ability to capture spontaneity in his paintings and later in his photographs as well. This Belgian artist had an omnivorous eye and a natural artistic gift which critics extolled him for. The young painter had a strong sense of curiosity about new modes of expression; photography developed into one.

With the Kodak amateur camera, Evenepoel managed to satisfy his curiosity by mastering how it worked. The photographs taken offer insight into his life and the way he worked at his painting. They are mostly concerned with capturing the process of producing a new painting, or photographing his loved ones unexpectedly. During the time (1880s - 1890s), a craving for the instant image grew, and it became more about the emotions it prompted rather than the composition and technical elements.

Photography also helped Evenepoel engage with a new visual medium, enabling him to experiment with a new and unexpected way of viewing the world. Some of the photographs he took were used as a source of inspiration for his paintings, but more often than not they were a means to explore and create resonant images, especially those which recorded what he encountered on the busy streets of Paris or in its parks.

Henri Evenepoel captured with ease the swirl and ripple of a skirt in motion; a dancing lady he may have encountered while enjoying Paris nightlife. These he recorded in his sketchbook and later used in his paintings. He rarely photographed the exaggerated movements he portrayed in his sketches and paintings because these were used for bigger projects. His camera liberated him from any constraints a mentor or audience would impose on his paintings or drawings, because he used it to create tangible and eternal souvenirs; real snapshots filled with spontaneity, reflecting his emotion in the images.

Untimely death
In fact, had Henri Evenepoel lived longer, he might well have explored some of the more venturous roads, which only the camera had allowed him to discover. This is a scary thought because the world of photography could have looked different had he not met such an untimely death. Evenepoel was a man who enjoyed the thought of himself as a photographer, having taken pictures of himself practising the art of photography. 

Also read our articles, concerning the Snapshot exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, about George Hendrik Breitner and Edouard Vuillard.

Besides the exhibition a competition is open for you to send in your current snapshots

of Amsterdam, inspired by the renowned artists featured in the exhibition.