This self portrait forever captures Alfred Bastien as a young man. Stood assured with arms crossed and feet together, Bastien looks straight at the viewer with supreme self-confidence. Fashionably dressed in a dark suit and matching cravat, Bastien stands with his own studio as a backdrop. Half-hidden in shadow, his face holds a stern and brooding expression.
Despite this severity, it is clear however, that this work celebrates Bastien and his artist practice. Indeed, the way that the artist’s work have been hung is evocative of the ‘salon-style’ of picture hanging used by esteemed official art exhibitions, many of which Bastien would have exhibited in himself.
The patches of vibrant colours and the loose brushstrokes give this piece a fantastic energy. The bold and loose nature of this work is consistent with that seen in Bastien’s other works such as his war scenes.
Alfred Bastien was a Belgian artist, academic, and soldier. He was born into a modest family in Ixelles in 1873. A traditional artist who produced portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Over the years, he developed a predilection for ‘real painting’, which opposed the ‘dead painting’ to which he and his associates counted Impressionism and Pointillism.
He attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Ghent and the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. He won the Prix Godecharle there in 1897. He traveled to Paris, where he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He was in Paris when hostilities broke out in what would become the First World War.
In 1911 Bastien was commissioned to paint a panorama of the Congo. The canvas came in at 13 meters high and 115 meters long with a surface area of 1,500 square meters. This gigantic canvas was exhibited at the world exhibition in Ghent in 1913 in the Pavilion of the Congo and was visited by 480,000 people.
Bastien served in the Belgian Army from 1915, being called up as an artilleryman in the Brussels Civil Guard. In 1916 the Section artistique de l’Armée was established, which included a number of well-know artists including Bastien. The purpose was to document the war for posterity.
In 1917 Bastien was attached as a war artist to the Canadian 22nd Battalion. He was assigned to paint for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. Some of the work he created in this period is part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
In 1920 he established a studio in what is now the mosque of the Cinquantenaire and there he completed many works including his Panorama of the battle of the Yser.
He served as a professor of painting at the Brussels Academy from 1927 to 1945 and thrice held the post of director. He also completed dioramas and decorative paintings for the Brussels pavilion at the World’s Fair of 1935.
Bastien kept a diary for most of his life. Here he recounted the events he witnessed, retracing the social, political and artistic life in Belgium, placing an acerbic glaze on his contemporaries and rivals. Bastien was close to King Albert I, Queen Elizabeth, and a close friend of Prince Regent Charles.
He died in Uccle on 7 June 1955.