OMA Presents: Louis Dewis: A Belgian Post-Impressionist


ORLANDO, May 1, 2018 – The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) may become the permanent home of an extensive collection of the paintings of Belgian Post-Impressionist painter, Louis Dewis. OMA will present a preview-exhibition of seven Dewis paintings from May 18 – September 9, 2018 in advance of a larger exhibition of the artist’s work being planned for January 2019.

Inspired by such French masters of landscape painting as Corot, Cézanne and Gauguin, Dewis painted scenes of cities, villages and the countryside throughout Belgium and France. Working primarily from 1916 until his death in 1946, Dewis was successful during his life, but his career was eclipsed by artistic developments of the post-World War II period in France. His work is now being reevaluated after a trove of paintings were discovered in the attic of a family home in Paris. This showing of seven paintings will preview a major exhibition for the artist being organized by the OMA and presented January 25 through April 21, 2019.

Louis Dewis (1872-1946) was born Louis Dewachter in Leuze, Belgium. He developed an interest in art early in life, but was discouraged from pursuing a career as a painter by his father. As a young man he entered the family business, Maison Dewachter, the world’s first department store chain. A successful and innovative entrepreneur, Dewis dedicated himself to growing the business while privately devoting time to his artistic development. He later adopted the pseudonym Louis Dewis to comply with his father’s insistence not to associate the family name with the younger Dewachter’s “frivolous” career as a painter.

Following the death of his father, Dewis’ painting career began to take precedence over the family business. Living in Bordeaux at the time, he had his first public exhibitions there and was active in the city’s artistic life. At one of these exhibitions, he was discovered by the Paris art dealer George Petit. Petit was a leading dealer of the period representing at times such masters as Monet, Renoir and Rodin. Petit offered to represent Dewis, if he would move to Paris and devote himself to painting. In 1919 Dewis took Petit’s advice, selling his share of the department stores and moving to the French capital.

Though Petit died a year later, Dewis went on to establish a successful career for the next two and a half decades. Dewis exhibited throughout France and Belgium in the 1920s and 30s, as well as in Germany and Switzerland. When the Second World War began, Dewis left Paris and settled in Biarritz on France’s Southern Atlantic coast. For the last few years of his life, the scenic coastal city and surrounding rugged countryside became the subject of his paintings.

The preview exhibition for Louis Dewis: A Belgian Post-Impressionist will present seven landscapes from important periods of the artist’s career following World War I. The years immediately after the Great War were distinctive in French art for a return to the motif of landscape, which is reflected in the direction that Dewis pursued. In part a response to the unprecedented devastation of the country and staggering loss of life, many artists during this time sought to celebrate the “soil” of France in landscape painting. Working in the towns, villages and open countryside throughout France, these artists strove to depict the unique and varied regions that together comprised the cultural vitality of the nation. 

Dewis’ paintings reflect this return to landscape painting with works that captured the scenic beauty and drama of locations from Belgium to the Basque country of southwestern France. Examples include Snow in the Ardennes, which presents a sweeping vista of mountains in a remote and unspoiled region of Belgium near the French border. In sharp contrast to this is The Seine at Rouen, a panorama which shows the great river winding through the industrial landscape on the outskirts of the northern city of Rouen. Amidst the factories and shipyards, the city’s distinctive cathedral can be seen rising in the distance. The Seine also appears in The Flood. This time the locale is central Paris where the river has risen over its banks and ominously threatens the city.

Late paintings include Bridge on the Nivelle and The Village Church, both depicting scenes in the rugged country at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. In these works, Dewis’ brushwork is looser and his pallet freer; perhaps reflecting the brighter and warmer atmosphere of Southern France. Purples, greens and yellows dominate each composition with the distinctive white washed buildings of the region or the glare of light on water providing bright accents.

Descriptive detail enriches all of Dewis’ paintings, but he rarely painted directly from life. Instead, he worked from drawings, which allowed the artist to edit and distill the expressive elements of each scene. Observed impressions were important, but memory was essential to his practice, allowing him the distance to find his own order in each composition. About this he said, “it is this memory that, transmuted by my sensitivity, gives to my works life, truth and atmosphere through the equilibrium and harmony of masses and colors.”

Following his death in 1946, Dewis’ daughter, Andrée Dewachter Ottoz, was intent on preserving everything related to his artistic career. She had the entire contents of his atelier in Biarritz packed and shipped to her Paris home. For more than 50 years much of Dewis’ work languished in storage and his career was overlooked by the art world of Post War France. Through a chance conversation with her American great-nephew, Mr. Brad Face, the then 92-year-old Mme Ottoz revealed the cache of paintings she had stored away for decades. Mr. Face resolved to return Dewis’ work to the public and find a home for the collection. Louis Dewis: A Belgian Post-Impressionist will present a selection of over 60 paintings from this lost body of work, in the artist’s first important museum exhibition. Following the exhibition, Mr. Face and the OMA will determine if the collection should come to the Museum permanently.

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Image credit: The Dewis Collection, LC –