The present work is one of the most striking and frontal composition from the Marken period of Xavier Mellery we have ever seen. A stunning prefiguration of the Symbolism to come in his oeuvre and the one of contemporaries, Khnopff (Mellery’s pupil), Degouve de Nuncques, Delville, Doudelet, Minne, etc.
Upon his return from Italy in 1875 (he won the Prix de Rome, including a grant for a four-year study tour), Mellery became acquainted with the lawyer Edmond Picard, the writers Camille Lemonnier and Emile Verhaeren and the collector Arthur Boitte, among others. In the numerous letters to his friends in that period, he wrote about his artistic ideal and his constant attempts to advance his art: “In point of fact, we may be certain that the most beautiful things in art are those that have yet to be said.”
Mellery’s works with Marken Island as their subject represent an important milestone in his career. His introduction to the island took place in 1878 through the writer Charles De Coster, who needed illustrations for his description of the Netherlands in the magazine Tour du monde. Marken was to Mellery what Brittany was to Gauguin: a lost paradise. Mellery’s stay on Marken represented a turning-point in his artistic development. He distanced himself from his academic training and secured a place in the Naturalistic movement of the Belgian avant-garde at the end of the 1870s, introducing in that way to the forthcoming Belgian Symbolism that the social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. At that time not yet a tourist trap, Marken was a locality where a fisher’s colony still was able to maintain its customs and mores. Mellery is struck by the islanders’ pride and integrity; and the present little girl seems like the Queen of the world, with a great confidence.
Drawings in colors from this influence in Mellery’s work are rare to find in this quality. A few were sold in the 90’s, but since then this quality has been hard to find. The present sheet is in the same collection for a very long time, bought by the grand-father of the present owner.