Ilse D’Hollander was so young when she died that almost the first response to her work might be a kind of shocked sorrow to think of such brilliance so abruptly extinguished. The artist killed herself at the age of 28. But the paintings she left defy such melancholy thoughts. Small, calm and balanced, these landscapes are exceptionally beautiful. Whatever was going on in her life does not seem to have been happening in her art.
D’Hollander was born in East Flanders in 1968. She studied first in Antwerp and then in Ghent; the earliest works in this show – painted on cardboard when the artist was about 24 – invoke the countryside between the two cities in all the rich greens of spring and summer. In 1995 she moved to the provincial village of Paulatem, where she seems to have worked with increasing energy and seclusion for the last two years of her life. Her career may have been short, but D’Hollander was prolific. More than 500 paintings survive.
Her habit was to go for long walks and cycle rides through the Flemish Ardennes, returning to the studio to paint what she had experienced from memory. It is the romantic tradition – emotion recollected in tranquillity – reprised for modern times. The light in these visions is chalky, often pale or opalescent, arriving in soft layers on the canvas as if remembered through both weather and time. Each image leans towards abstraction, but is deeply rooted in reality.