Edward Chappel was fascinated with the traditions of art and the modern innovations being undertaken across Europe. An artist who began his life devoted to one country and who ended it with a passion for another, Chappel’s varied oeuvre reveals how he developed gloriously moody works from a blend of inspirations.
Chappel grew up in Antwerp and would begin his arts education at the Academy of Arts within the city. Here he was tutored by the prominent Belgian artist Charles Verlat (1824-1890). Mixed in with these studies were frequent trips to Paris and lessons taken at the Académie Julian, a nurturing and forward-thinking institute. These trips to Paris also saw Chappel mingling with members of the innovative impressionists, such as Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley.
However, in these early years it seems he was dedicated to the great traditions of Flemish and Dutch art. In 1883 he became a founding member of the art group ‘Als Ik Kan.’ The group took their name, meaning ‘As I Can,’ from the master artist Jan Van Eyck. Their intention was to quell the tide of modernist art and encourage an appreciation of the stylistic legacy of artists like Van Eyck. They were incredibly proactive, putting on approximately four exhibitions a year. Chappel was in the good company of artists such as Léon Brunin (1861-1949) and Jan-Willem Rosier (1858-1931).
Chappel’s early works of the 1880s clearly show the evidence of his more traditionalist leaning. Still life paintings are executed with fine detail and strong realism. Earthy colours with carefully chosen pops of colour in the fragile petals of flowers stir reminiscence of the works of those earlier masters. They demonstrate both Chappel’s appreciation of the traditions of Netherlandish art and his own skill in composition and depiction.
In the 1890s, Chappel made a move to live and work in London. Along with his wife, Alice Wust Chappel, he established a studio in Fulham where they would both hold exhibitions and classes. This London home seems to have become something of an artistic shelter, holding musical recitals and overall encouraging artistic endeavour. Chappel would also hold art classes, some specifically for women, in collaboration with Dutch artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912).
Chappel began to exhibit frequently at institutions and societies ranging from the Royal Academy to the Sketch Club. He seems to have continued to present his still life works. The British press praised these as works of ‘extraordinary facility.’
However, he began cultivating a greater interest in landscape painting, and it was in these works that the artist began to experiment with different styles and moods.
From the impressionists he had at first dismissed to the more romantic works of the Barbizon painters, Chappel layered his works with inspiration. The overall effect is an oeuvre rich in artistic experimentation and innovation. With this comes a sophisticated knowledge of composition and the evocation of the paint and pastel he favoured in order to summon strong variations of mood.
Indeed, mood is the key aspect of Chappel’s works which brought him much acclaim. A solo exhibition titled ‘Moods of Nature’ laid forth works capturing scenes from across Britain laid thick with the hazy light of early morning or the stormy reckoning of the oncoming night. He was praised for offering a ‘truth’ and ‘sympathy’ in his ‘interpretations of Nature.’
These works earnt Chappel acclaim both in Britain and abroad. A strange case of Chappel’s smaller works being stolen from the walls of an exhibition suggests their popularity, perhaps with either light-fingered members of the public or opportunists looking to make money. Whatever the case, the outcome was Chappel producing works on larger canvas in greater volumes, to make them ‘thief-proof’!
France in particular was very keen on Chappel’s art. The French government purchased a landscape in 1925 for their national collection. He also exhibited in Paris, earning an honourable mention at the Salon des Artistes Français.
Chappel lived in Britain for over 30 years, and it is interesting to note that the press referred to him as an ‘English landscape artist.’ The loyalty to his homeland had long since faded. Indeed, Chappel had slightly altered his name, converting ‘Edouard’ into the British ‘Edward,’ a sure sign of his changing alliance.
Whilst living in Britain, Chappel also set up a studio in the south of France, in Cagnes-sur-Mer. He would often make painting trips to this area and would eventually move to the town to live permanently in 1924.
The works of his later career produced in this area show a closer devotion to the impressionistic style. His pieces depicting glorious, sun-touched landscapes are extremely evocative of this group. Perhaps Chappel was convinced of this move by his surrounding areas. The lighter colours and sudden brushstrokes of the impressionists certainly seem a suitable style through which to depict this warmer climate.
Chappel’s life in southern France was not, unfortunately, completely sunny side up. His wife Alice was suddenly killed in 1932 after being hit by an automobile.
Edward Chappel was an extremely prolific artist who displayed a fascinating mix of experimentation and inspiration in his ‘mood’ landscapes. The still life works that remain speak of an earlier dedication to the artistic traditions of his homeland.
He was, above all, an artist of ‘talent above the ordinary.’ Today, his works are held in collections across Europe, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium.
Became a founder member of the ‘Als Ik Kan’ art group.
Lived and worked in London, Britain.
Married Alice Wust. Exhibited at the International Exposition, Berlin, Germany. Awarded a gold medal at an exhibition in Barcelona, Spain.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, Britain.
Exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, Paris, France.
Exhibited at the Doré Gallery, London, Britain.
Solo exhibition held at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, France.
Received honourable mention at the Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, France.
Moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.
Solo exhibition held at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, France.
Solo exhibition of work held at Abbey Gallery, London, Britain.
Wife Alice Wust Chappel died.
Died in Cagnes, France.
Retrospective exhibition of works held at the Pirra Gallery, Turin, Italy.