A fashionable young woman looks out across the sea as a storm begins to roll ashore in this brilliant oil painting by Belgian genre artist Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens. The artist is best known for his commanding scenes of beautiful women of society, utilizing elements of both the Neoclassical and Impressionist schools to create elegant, highly-desirable artworks that earned him critical acclaim.
This beautiful composition, entitled Femme élégante voyant filer un vapeur, is a direct result of his summer vacations in the 1880s to the Normandy and Midi coasts. Sometime in 1880, his physician suggested that summers at the ocean would be beneficial to health. Despite his highly successful career, Stevens was always in financial difficulty, and decided to make a deal with Parisian art dealer Georges Petit to pay for his trip. He received 50,000 francs in exchange for the paintings he composed during his travels. The deal lasted for three years, and from that moment on, the sea became a favored theme in the artist's oeuvre.
Stevens began his artistic schooling at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he was greatly influenced by the romantic and emotive elements of Neoclassicism via his friendship with famed painter François Navez. He studied there for two years before moving to Paris and enrolling in the École des Beaux-Arts, where he perfected a highly naturalistic style inspired by the great 17th-century Dutch Masters. His first public exhibition in 1851 at the Brussels Salon garnered him tremendous attention, which led to multiple, award-winning showings at the Paris and Antwerp Salons and numerous international exhibitions throughout his career. Stevens fought for the French in the Franco-Prussian War, after which he decided to live full-time in Paris. His exposure to the French Impressionists left an indelible mark upon his work, with the current painting being a perfect example. The softened outlines and the attention given to the effect the brewing storm has on natural light are clear hallmarks of the movement.
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 2006, E. Bénézit