Armand Rassenfosse (1862 – 1934)
Armand Rassenfosse (6 August 1862 – 28 January 1934) was a largely self-taught Belgian graphic artist, book illustrator and painter. His masterwork was a set of illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.
At the age of twenty-eight Rassenfosse decided to leave the family business and devote himself entirely to art. His work for Bénard provided a living, and Bénard also introduced him to the practice of lithography. In 1896, he became an intern under Jules Chéret, a lithographer known for his high-quality artistic posters, at the Chaix printing works in Paris. The same year he exhibited in the third salon of “La Libre Esthetique” in Brussels. From then on his reputation continued to grow, with more exhibitions and commissions, particularly for publications.
Rassenfosse illustrated the supplement to the 1895 catalog of Rops’ engravings published by Eugene Rodrigues in 1895. Between 1899 and 1901, Rassenfosse undertook a major contract with Rodrigues’s “Societe des Cent Bibliophiles” to illustrate Charles Baudelaire’s poems Les Fleurs du mal. He created 160 color etchings for the book. The book was published in an edition of only 130 copies. It is not only the magnum opus of Armand Rassenfosse, but is also generally considered one of the highlights in the field of book illustration.
Rassenfosse was appointed Secretary of the Section of Fine Arts as part of the Liège International Expo 1905, and a member of the administrative committee of the Liege Academy of Fine Arts. He participated in several international exhibitions in 1906. When Bénard died in 1907 he had to undertake greater responsibilities with the printing house, leaving him less time for artistic work, leading to a temporary period of stagnation. The death of his son in 1913 and the rigors of World War I caused another crisis. In response he locked himself away for days at a time, absorbed in his work.
He began to work with oil on cardboard, with a smoother, more confident technique. Many of his paintings at this time were of women, mostly nudes in an intimate setting, but he also portrayed dancers in the rich scenery of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes or dancers in the style of Isadora Duncan. He was interested in the theme of “hiercheuses”, as the young girls and women from the Liege coal industry were called. In some of his portraits of these women Rassenfosse depicts them as partly nude trollops, reflecting the traditional view of working women as being sexually promiscuous. The paintings showed them as younger and more attractive than the reality.
After the war ended, Rassenfosse continued to research new techniques of engraving and producing bookplates, and continued to make many illustrations for books. He received numerous titles and awards, including Commander of the Order of Leopold. Rassenfosse died in Liege on 28 January 1934.