Brussels 1816 – 1892
Brussels 1816 – 1892
Joseph Édouard Stevens was born in Brussels on November 27, 1816. He was a painter renowned for his genre scenes and animal depictions, as well as an accomplished engraver.
Struggling with fragile health, he led a mostly reclusive life. While he received education under the tutelage of the animal painter Louis Robbe, he was largely self-taught through his observations of nature. His artistic journey began at the Salon de Bruxelles in 1842, where he dedicated his talent to capturing his favorite subjects: dogs, particularly those that were poor, sorrowful, sick, and hungry. This devotion led Arthur Laes to declare that “Stevens liked the proletarians of the race.” His early period was characterized by a sentimental realism, a storytelling romanticism that often leaned towards melancholy, seen in works like “The Sand Merchant” (Collection of the King of Belgium). However, he later shed these romantic tendencies to delve into the psychological aspect of animals, evolving into a true animal portraitist. His mastery in this genre is evident in pieces such as “Dog with a Fly” (1856) and “Dog with a Mirror” (1861). He excelled in creating lifelike personages, bringing his subjects to life. His mature period, thriving between 1850 and 1865, was marked by artistic sophistication.
Around 1862, Stevens settled in Paris, where he was influenced by the animal painter Descamps. He gained favor in the court of Empress Eugénie and was awarded the esteemed title of Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1866. He had held the rank of Officer of the Order of Leopold since 1863. During his time in Paris, he frequented the Circus of the Champs-Elysées and regularly visited markets and kennels in pursuit of his subjects. Notably, he shared a friendship with poet Ch. Baudelaire, whom he reunited with in Brussels upon his return in 1869. Baudelaire dedicated a prose poem titled “Les bons Chiens” to him, and author Léon Cladel dedicated his book “Kyrielle de Chiens” to Stevens.
Intrigued by the allure of court life and influenced by his successful painter brother Alfred Stevens, Joseph briefly dabbled in the world of horse racing, albeit leaving his beloved dogs behind. This period was marked by dispersion, resulting in numerous sketches but only a few completed paintings.
Stevens’ technique was marked by a diverse range of approaches, spanning from smooth and fluid surfaces to textured impastos. Similarly, his palette was characterized by versatility, encompassing a range from whites and greys to reddish browns and bold reds. These varying styles always harmonized with the subjects at hand, reflecting his evolution as an artist and his growing directness in expression. Towards the end of his life, he remained devoted to exhibitions in both Brussels and Paris, receiving second-class medals in 1852 and 1855.
Noted artist Ernest Meissonnier painted Stevens’ portrait. In 1845, Stevens embarked on his artistic journey with “A Hunting Dog and his Companion”. He showcased exceptional talent in depicting animals, with dogs and monkeys being his preferred subjects. Lemonier aptly described him as “one of the greatest painters of his day, painting was a natural gift to him, equal to the art of Snyders and Fyt”. In a letter from Paris, his brother Alfred eloquently wrote, “I belong to my time, while you Joseph, like Fyt, Snyders, and Jordaens, you are of your race. Therefore, you are timeless.” The celebrated poet Baudelaire enthusiastically celebrated Stevens’ art, and Lucien Solvay observed that his works bore the vibrant mark of the Flemish school’s most colorful painters.
With the backing of his protector, who was acquired by the Count of Flanders, Stevens claimed the prestigious Grand Prize in London in 1874.
He passed away in Brussels on August 3, 1892. His legacy lives on in various museums, with notable works displayed in Brussels Museum, Antwerp, Ghent, Tournai, Musée Charlier, Ixelles, Hamburg, Rouen, Stuttgart, and several others.