Dewis Rediscovered

 

Louis Dewis (1872–1946) was a Belgian Post-Impressionist painter, who lived most of his adult life in France.

Dewis began to exhibit about 1916, at the age of 44. A year later, he helped organize Le Salon franco-belge in the Bordeaux Public Garden. It was a charity event for the benefit of Belgian war refugees sponsored by the Belgian Benevolent Society of the South West and the Girondin Artists. It was at this exhibition that the art of Louis Dewis would first draw serious attention from some prominent art critics of the era.

Early reviews noted Dewis’ “warm and harmonious” use of color and his “marvelous play of light and the most entrancing symphonies.”

From this period until his death in Biarritz in 1946, Dewis’ landscapes were shown regularly at major exhibitions across western Europe.  They attracted favorable reviews in the international press, purchases from major museums and the highest decorations from the governments of three countries.  However, perhaps due to uncommon bad luck, the highest achievement of fame eluded him.

Louis Dewis was born Isidore Louis Dewachter in MonsBelgium, the son of Isidore Louis Dewachter and Eloise Desmaret Dewachter. He spent his formative years in Liege where his closest boyhood friend was Richard Heintz (1871–1929), who also became an internationally known landscape artist.

Although the name “Dewachter” may have Flemish roots, Dewachter always considered himself a Walloon.

Louis’ successful merchant father was embarrassed that his son would waste his time with something as useless as painting. In a vain attempt to break his young son of this “bad habit,” the elder Dewachter would, on occasion, throw away the boy’s canvases, paints and brushes.

Young Louis’ love of art could not be deterred. It could, however, be overwhelmed by business and family responsibilities

As the eldest son, Louis was expected to take over the family business, a chain of men’s clothing stores called Maison Dewachter. This was a duty that his father would not allow him to shirk. Dewis would come to manage the store in Bordeaux but there were Maison Dewachters in cities across France and Belgium, usually run locally by one cousin or another. Louis would bear this responsibility until after his father’s death and the conclusion of World War I.

When his younger brother lost a small fortune gambling, it fell to Louis to make good on the enormous debt. This would take him several years.

He married Elizabeth Florigni in 1896 and raised two daughters, Yvonne and Andrée.

After his father’s death, Louis gave up management of the business and took up painting full time. From the late 1910′s until his death in Biarritz in 1946, Dewis’ landscapes were shown regularly at major exhibitions across France and his native Belgium. They attracted favorable reviews in the international press, purchases from major museums and the highest decorations from the governments of three countries. However, the highest achievement of fame eluded him.

Because he didn’t need the money — and because of his father’s opposition — Dewis did not promote his art in his young adulthood. His later career was marked by uncommon public relations misfortune, including the untimely death of his sponsor, the influential French art promoter M. Georges Petit… and of course two World Wars. As a result, Dewis’ work was highly regarded and well reviewed but not heavily promoted.

Daughter Yvonne married a young American army officer and eventually moved to the States… while Andrée married businessman Jérôme Ottoz who proved to be less than supportive of his talented father-in-law. At Dewis’ death, his devoted daughter Andrée carefully crated up her father’s work, which Jérôme then packed away in the attic of their Paris apartment building.

Some 50 years later, Andrée and an American great nephew opened the crates and resolved to return Dewis’ work to the public… an effort inaugurated in Dewis Rediscovered.