Home > painters > The blind violinist (by Gustave van de Woestyne)

The blind violinist (by Gustave van de Woestyne)

A rare post on a painting. Not that I started to dislike them these years, but I make less time for them. But this one, the blind violinist by Gustave Van de Woestyne deserves a small note.

I have a good catalogue at home on Gustave’s (who is Flemish by the way, just like me) paintings, with generally insightful commentaries (the catalogue accompanied an exhibion of his work a few years ago, in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Gent). Here is the painting and below it the commentary in that book.

The blind violonist

It focusses on the housenumber, 39, which was Gustave’s number. From this they suspect (rightly I suppose) that the painting is a self-portrait in disguise, symbolizing Gustave as uncomprehended artist who plays the violin without drawing any attention or receiving any money. Supporting this interpretation is the fact that for financial reasons Gustave had to concentrate these years on comissioned portraits and frequently bemoans lacking time for any serious work, as is symbolized here by the empty violin box.
The interpretation I suggest is of an entirely different order, hence it might very well be complementary to the one offered in this commentary. It marvels on the pictorial intelligence of this painting. The violinist on the painting is blind. Hence he sees nothing, but he hears himself playing. The onlooker, however, sees the violonist and some other things on the painting, but he hears nothing. Another fascinating thing is that you can hardly paint that someone is blind (except when suffering from a serious and visible eye condition). Rather, the title says so, and the fact that the violinist’s position does not reveal his eyes, suggests it.
In fact the blind violonist strikes me as an intelligent pun. An exhibition of pictorial fun.
That Van de Woestyne was hardly blind to these kinds of pictorial games is suggested by his own words on another painting (The liquor drinkers):
I quote him here in Dutch (and translate it afterward, freely and dull): ‘Als den toeschouwer voor mijn werk komt, is het alsof hij mij ziet zitten op mijne schilderij, aan tafel met 2 meisjes, lieve wereldsche meisjes en dat ik een glas bier aan’t drinken ben, en zij een likeurtje. Hewel den aanschouwer is mis. Ik zit wel aan een tafeltje met een glas bier naast mij en die meisjes ook maar hun en hun tafeltje zijn maar geschilderde. Ik zit dus niet in de werkelijkheid met vreemde meisjes te drinken, maar in mijne verbeelding. (translation: ‘When the onlooker comes before my painting, it is as if he sees me on my painting, together with 2 sweet and worldly girls, and that I’m drinking a glass of beer and they of liquor. Well, the onlooker is wrong. I am indeed sitting on a table with a glass of beer and so do the girls, but them and their table are only painted. Thus, I’m not really drinking together with unknown girls, but only in my imagination.’).
This strenghtens my interpretation of the blind violinist. There is more to this painting than what the book commentary suggests, and that more concerns a subtle pictorial game.
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