CHARLES MICHEL MARIA VERLAT
A Brittany Spaniel putting up a Gadwall in a Marsh Landscape
Oil on panel, signed
34.8 x 26.3 cms
13 5/8 x 10 3/8 inches
Verlat was born in Antwerp on 24th November 1824 and spent most his life there until his death on 23rd October 1890. He received his initial artistic training from his mother, who was a sculptor of Dutch origin and then later as a pupil of Gustave Wappers, Joseph Lies and the portraitist Nicaise de Keyser at the Academy of Antwerp.
In 1849, he went to Paris where he lived and worked for the next eighteen years He worked at the studio of Ary Scheffer and befriended the major Belgian Impressionist painter Alfred Stevens and his brother Joseph who were also based there and also came to be influenced by the realism of Gustave Courbet.
His aspiration was to be a significant painter of wildlife and sporting scenes but due to financial constraints, he had initially to produce humorous works of actors to help pay his way. In 1866, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar appointed him as director of his Academy of Fine Arts and during his tenure there he painted several portraits and made a study of the German Primitives.
The next stage in his life saw him visit the Orient and Palestine in 1874 where he remained for two years painting Biblical scenes before returning to Antwerp. In 1877, he was made an honorary member of La Société Royale Belge des Aquarellistes. The same year saw him appointed professor at the Academy of Antwerp and e was made Director of that institution in 1885. He became renowned as a painter of animals, portraits and historical subjects as well as being an engraver and he became an important figure in the Antwerp art world, particularly as an authority on Gustave Courbet. He was one of the key figures instrumental in the renaissance of the Antwerp engraving studios and in 1879, he published his treatise “Plan général des Études à l’Académie Royale d’Anvers et des réformes à introduire dans les cours de dessin et de peinture”.
In many ways he is similar in style to his Belgian contemporaries but the influence of the French Realists is also apparent. He produced some enormous genre scenes and the Antwerp Museum has an example of this entitled “The Carriers of the Heavy Load”. Hunting scenes and large wild animals, rather on the scale of the 17th century Paul de Vos and Frans Snyders, as well as panoramic landscapes such as “Panorama of Moscow” and “The Battle of Waterloo”, were also part of his oeuvre. However, purely for financial remuneration, he painted humorous works depicting monkeys as actors and other anthropomorphic subjects which were very popular but which Verlat slightly dismissively, but pragmatically, referred to as “monkey business”.
Several renowned Belgian artists were his pupils including: Leon Brunin, Piet van Engelen, Jan Hendrik Luyten, Edouard Chappel, Charles Mertens, Jan Willem Rosier and Henri van de Velde.
He exhibited two pictures at the Royal Academy in London: “Not Invited” in 1869 and “Flowers and Fruit” in 1886. He was made a member of the Légion d’Honeur in 1868 and received medals from the Paris Salon in 1853, 1855 and 1878. Examples of his work can be seen in museums in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Brussels, Bremen, Graz, Le Havre, Provin, Weimar and Liège.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire des Peintres – E Benezit
Dictionnaire des Artistes Plasticiens de Belgique des XIXe et
XXe Siècles - Paul Piron
Lexicon of the Belgian Romantic Painters – Willem G Flippo
Dog Painting, the European Breeds – William Secord
The Brittany Spaniel originated in the village of Callac which is situated in the area of the same name in France. It came about because of the liaison of English setters and pointers with the local Frugeres Spaniel.
In the 19th century it was popular for the wealthy classes of England to go to France to shoot snipe and partridge. Many would take their favourite gundogs with them and would leave them on the estate that they had visited during the close season rather than bring them back. This union of the English and French dogs resulted in the Brittany and explains the typical variation in coat colours derived from the range of those seen on the pointers and setters.
It is a fine gundog with speed, an excellent nose, natural hunting ability and a sometime pointer.
The Gadwall is a member of the Duck family and is slightly smaller than a Mallard. The male is uniformly grey with a contrasting black rear but in flight there is apparent a square white patch on the trailing part of the wing. The female is very like a Mallard to look at with a predominantly speckled brown plumage except for a white patch on the wing and a bill with orange sides.
Its habitat is marshes, lakes, ponds and rivers and the nesting site is a depression in the ground among thick vegetation near water and it is lined with plants and down in which are laid between eight and twelve eggs.
It can be found variously between Iceland, Britain and Spain across to Siberia as well as in North America. As it is principally migratory in Europe it usually winters in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Although widespread it is not easy to find as it can be very localised and is often not found in places one would assume were perfect for it.