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At first, Theo studied at the Academy of Ghent under the teachings of Theo Canneel. In 1879, the artist enrolled at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, under the direction of Jean-Francois Portaels. Portaels’ paintings depicting North Africa would start an Orientalist trend in Belgium. Said pantings would profoundly influence young Rysselberghe.
Aging only eighteen years, the artist already exhibited at the Salon of Ghent, showing two portraits. Soon after, he executed Self-portrait with Pipe, executed in somber tones, and following the current Belgian realistic tradition. Shortly afterward, however, Rysselberghe painted Child in an Open Spot of the Forest, which hints a departure of the aforementioned tradition towards Impressionism.
In the following year, Rysselberghe took his first trip to Morocco and Spain, following the footsteps of Jean-Francois Portaels alongside his friends, the Belgian artist Frantz Charlet and Austrian artist Dario Regoyos y Valdes, exploring both countries thoroughly. Rysselberghe was especially fond of the artworks by the Old Masters displayed at the Museo del Prado. Upon arriving in Tangier, the artist was astonished by a place so different and yet so close to Europe. There, the artist spent four months painting and sketching. Some of the artworks that resulted from the said period are Arabian Street Cobbler, Arabian Boy, and Resting Guard.
Back in Belgium, the artist exhibited 30 artworks that resulted from his trip. They were met with immediate success, especially The Orange Seller, The Kief Smokers, and The Strait (setting sun), Tangier.
On October 28, 1833, Rysselberghe became one of the founding members of Les XX, an artistic group formed by young radical artists under the patronage of Octave Maus. Some noteworthy members of the group were Willy Finch, Felicien Rops, James Ensor, Paul Signac, and Auguste Rodin.
In 1887, Rysselberghe took another trip to Morocco, where he stayed for three months executing several sketches. Upon his return to Belgium, the artist promptly started to paint based on notes, photos, and the said drawings. Encampment near a Moroccan Village is possibly his earliest Neo-impressionist painting. His subsequent artworks carry an evident influence of Georges Seurat’s paintings. In the following year, he painted a Portrait of Alice Sethe, which became a turning point to his career, as he began to explore Pointillism.
In his later years, the artist’s Pointillist technique became lighter looser until a point he abandoned it completely. His brushstrokes became more elongated, and his color palette became more vivid.
Theo van Rysselberghe died December 14, 1926.