The Bookworm - Gerard Portielje
The Bookworm - Gerard Portielje

The Bookworm - Gerard Portielje

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The Bookworm
Dated 1895
Oil on Panel
11 X 14 Inches

Inscribed: "The undersigned declares that this picture has been painted by himself Gerard Portielje 1895 Antwerp” 
Marked with the artist’s seal

The Bookworm by Belgian artist Gerard Jozef Portielje. The scene depicts an elderly gentleman sitting at his desk with papers in hand. The viewer has no choice but to wonder what the character is reading. Perhaps this painting was intended to pay homage to The Bookworm painted in 1852 by Carl Spitzweg (German, 1808 – 1885) which is now in the collection of the Museum Georg Schafer located in Schweinfurt, Germany. Portielje appears to have had significant influence from Spitzweg in his depictions which regularly poke light jest at the characters. Subsequently, Norman Rockwell (American, 1894 – 1978) painted his own version of the scene in 1926 on canvas titled The Bookworm (Man With Nose in Book) that sold to a private collector in May 2015 by Sotheby’s for $3,834,000.

The painting was created in 1895 when the artist was 39 years old. The painting is signed and dated on the bottom center and is also inscribed on the reverse, “The undersigned declares that this picture has been painted by himself Gerard Portielje 1895 Antwerp” (on the reverse) along with the artist’s seal. The frame appears to be original to the painting based upon the period.

Gerard Portielje was born on February 6th of 1856 in Antwerp. Gerard’s father, Jan Frederik Pieter Portielje (Belgian, 1829 – 1908) also inscribed the reverses of his paintings in a similar fashion. Gerard’s brother, Edward Antoon Portielje (Belgian, 1861 – 1949) was also a painter. Gerard Portielje attended trade school until 1870, and from there he entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. Portielje learned from Polydore Beaufaux, Jozef Van Lerius and Edward Dujardin.

In 1887, he took a study trip to Vosges and Alsace. In 1898, he visited England and spent some time at Lowestoft. When World War I broke out, he returned to England, via Ostend and spent the war years in Worcester Park, Surrey where he produced many landscapes and portrayals of country houses. For some unknown reason, he did not participate in exhibitions of Beligan artists in exile that were given at Kingston Upon Thames and Oxford in 1915. He and his family returned to Belgium in 1919. From 1898 to 1914 he was an art teacher at the church school on Lange Leemstraat in Antwerp. Portielje continued teaching art again in 1919 and remained doing so until 1925. He was also a Professor of Drawing at the Antwerp Academy. Portielje died on May 18th in Remich.

Portielje specialized in genre scenes in a variety of social settings, generally filled with people who might be described as "characters". They are often humorous (occasionally suggestive), and there is usually a sense that something is about to happen. The clothing and accessories point to the early nineteenth century, rather than his own times. He is particularly noted for his attention to fine detail. 

He worked in close cooperation with many well-known art dealers in New York and London. One of those dealers, Albert D'Huyvetter, often had him produce paintings in collaboration with other artists.

He was commissioned to create posters and brochures for the 300th Anniversary of Anthony van Dyck's birth and designed advertisements for "Elixir d'Anvers", an herbal liqueur with purported medicinal properties.

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