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BOON GALLERY

Hubert MALFAIT (1898 - Astene - 1971 - Sint-Martens-Latem)

Hubert Malfait was a Belgian Expressionist painter and draughtsman of landscapes and rural scenery. He evoked the landscape and the inhabitants of the area near the river Lys. He was the son of the local town clerk Jules Malfait, Hubert Malfait was born in Astene in 1898. The town clerk was a good friend of the renowned painters Emile Claus, Valerius De Saedeleer and Albijn Van den Abeele, and he became familiar with their art already at a young age. During the war years, Malfait studied at the Ghent Academy for the Fine Arts where Jules De Sutter was his fellow pupil. Decisive was the meeting with critics André De Ridder, Paul-Gustave van Hecke and Georges Marlier on the occasion of the exhibition "Laethemsche Kunstenaarskolonie" that took place in August and September of 1924 in the old atelier of Gustave Van de Woestyne in Sint-Martens-Latem. A short time later, he was a fully-fledged member of the avant-garde expressionist group of Gustave De Smet, Frits Van den Berghe and Constant Permeke. From this moment on, the progressive Brussels galleries defended him through thick and thin. Critics saw in him the flag-bearer of a new generation of expressionists who continued the formalistic examples of his three predecessors: De Smet, Van den Berghe and Permeke. Already in 1927, Hubert Malfait received an individual exhibition in the modernistic circle of Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels. Until the crisis years, Malfait would actively participate in Brussels artistic life, where his paintings captivated an international public. In November of 1928 for that matter, he came into contact with Le Centaure. This success, however, did not daze him. Malfait continued to call himself into question, and in 1929 he lived for a considerable time in Paris where he became impressed with the work of Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Ossip Zadkine. In 1930, Malfait shared his atelier with the Ghent expressionist sculptor Jozef Cantré. Later that year he was again the guest of Le Centaure. This Brussels' success came to an abrupt end with the economic crisis. When Le Centaure, his most important source of income, went bankrupt in 1932, 10 years of history were squandered in a few days time. The gallery's collection was auctioned off without limit. With Gustave De Smet and Frits Van den Berghe, Malfait was among the worst affected. The modernistic circles were able to rise above this blow only with great difficulty. In fact, the conservative press used the economic crisis and the bankruptcy of the modernistic galleries to announce the end of expressionism, the prevailing movement of the 1920s. Only in 1934 did Malfait re-emerge on the scene when the Brussels gallery Louis Manteau organised an exhibition of his work. He unexpectedly found a supporter in critic Emmanuel de Bomb, who defended expressionism: "The cheers from the enemy camp were possibly somewhat premature: living art, truly living art at least, is not as dead as some have claimed." In the 1930s, Malfait was regularly present in the Ghent art scene. He received an individual exhibition at the Ars gallery in 1933. From 1938, Malfait was regularly the guest of the Vyncke-van Eyck Gallery in the Nederkouter in Ghent. From the 1950s on, Malfait could be seen almost exclusively in the Ghent gallery. The war years were a turning point in the number of exhibitions. Malfait's large one-man exhibitions only came about in 1944. Then he exhibited his paintings in the Brueghel Gallery. He reserved the drawings for the Apollo Gallery of art critic Roger Delevoy. Shortly before his death, the Museum for the Fine Arts in Ostend organised an extensive retrospective of his work. The artist died in his house in Sint-Martens-Latem on 15 September 1971.
While he was undeniably influenced by impressionism at the time of his debut, Malfait quickly fell under the spell of expressionism. The period between 1917 and 1923 was a long quest, in which primarily Eugène Laermans and Jakob Smits appear to have been the examples that were followed. Malfait's classical expressionist period began in 1923. Village life, his preferred theme, was now inhabited by robust archetypal figures. Especially the example of the French post-cubism of André Lhote and Ossip Zadkine-re-stated in Belgium by Gustave De Smet-appealed to the young man. This sculptural method of depicting objects in all three dimensions was applied by Malfait. His figures are monumental creatures, crudely constructed with the palette knife. The coloured areas gradually assumed more importance. Formalistic synthesis, however, did not evolve into a rigid expressionism. Malfait inserted more anecdotal details into his paintings. His colour palette was also richer, colours that he played off against each other in strong contrasts. The use of abstract colours against a uniform background enhanced the playful, often decorative character of his work. In the years of the economic crisis, Malfait's work also underwent a great change. In the first place, his brush technique became looser, in a manner that reminds one of fauvism. Free reign was also given to the colouring. In the years until 1935, he no longer emphasised the figure. Seascapes, landscapes and still lifes became at least as important. The archetypal character of the earlier days disappeared. He preferred to paint the well-known figures from his immediate surroundings: his family. After 1935, Malfait also came under the spell of the renewed humanism that characterised European painting. The empathic power that Malfait put into his paintings from this point on primarily included the theme of the child. However, there is also no longer talk of a loose style of painting in the work scenes in the field and the still lifes. The travels to Brittany, the South of France and the Netherlands that he made after the Second World War, had an immense influence on his use of colour. The works that he completed on location are characterised by vivid colouring. But in the landscapes that he completed in his atelier, he softened the contrasting colours by mixing beeswax into the oil paint. The matt effect gave his paintings a unifying character. This technique had a positive effect on the harmony of the image. At the evening of his life, he had a conspicuous preference for the naked. Work in the fields also remained a rewarding subject. With the motif of the equestrian, a new theme entered his work. Malfait again began to engage more in abstraction and to synthesise. His painting also became more lyric in tone.
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