When Marc and Heather finally managed to visit an old friend last year (between lockdowns!) – a retired Art and Antiques dealer in Paris – they did not expect to come across a collection of Belgian artworks they had never seen before in their years of travelling around Europe. They certainly did not expect to be told to choose their favourites from a collection which could easily have been a large, successful exhibition on its own.
That was, however, exactly what happened. They found themselves learning about an intriguing Belgian artist named Paul Daxhelet, whose watercolours they were lucky enough to be able to discover. They brought back their favourites; some particularly expressive pieces from Daxhelet’s studies in Africa.
Their friend had put on two exhibitions pf Daxhelet’s work over the years, and had amassed a large collection of his watercolours, perhaps with the idea of exhibiting them one day to show a rarer side of Paul Daxhelet’s art.
Born in Liege, Paul Daxhelet came from a family of artists and attended a local academy, later studying under Hermann-Paul and Raymond Renefer in Paris. His first exposition of engravings was in 1930, in his hometown of Liege, and was a huge success.
Daxhelet was fascinated by sport, and spent much of his time studying boxers and wrestlers, even occasionally taking part himself.
This study informed his work, and can clearly be shown in his expression of movement. He subsequently exhibited every two years, eventually adding drawings and watercolours to his offerings.
In 1939 he opened a private studio called L’Atelier 39, which also proved to be a great success and lead to Daxhelet applying as teacher in 1949, at the Academy des Beaux Arts of Liege. He then continued to work at the Academy until his retirement in 1970.
After seeing a French initiative organised and subsidised for artists to various African colonies, Daxhelet pushed for a similar Belgian initiative. Shortly after, in 1951, he left for the Congo accompanied by fellow artist Floris Jespers.
His arrival was described as almost an epiphany; assailed first by the African light whilst waiting to disembark. He then continued inland, was inspired by safaris and began to sketch all that he came across – the vibrant colours striking him.
He adapted his technique to express what he saw, and to display the vivid contrasts but also the balance of tonality.
It was however his discovery of the native population in their element that struck him the most; the harmony between man and nature. He was hooked, and felt he had discovered his real reason for painting.
Daxhelet returned home after a four month journey with some 30 kilos of sketches and watercolours, which he had made to record his travels, and act as an aide memoire for his larger pictures. He returned to Africa in 1953 after a successful exhibition from his first trip earlier that same year, and continued to visit to the continent until 1969, at which point he started to travel further afield.
This particular group of watercolours below are part of Daxhelet’s record of his travels – specifically his studies on the fishing and boating scenes as he explored coastal villages. They are instant reminders of the light, scenery and local life that so gripped and inspired him, characteristically painted in his inimitable style.