Obsession III - 1919
Frits Van den Berghe discovers German expressionism shortly before the first World War through the magazines of Der Sturm, to which his friend and painter Gust De Smet had subscribed. Together they would also discover French cubism and the European avant-garde in their visits to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1914, where they fled to during the first years of the war. Dealing with personal problems, Van den Berghe would almost abandon painting for a year in 1918, when he returned to Brussels to work as a clerk.
Upon his return to Holland and his friends Gust and Gusta De Smet in 1919, he finds the couple in great distress after their 20-year-old son was killed in a train accident four months earlier. In Obsession, Van den Berghe finds his second wind as an artist: the lessons learned from the European avant-garde movements have matured, and in this bold and ambitious painting, he captures his friends in their suffering. Gust De Smet stands on the foreground, isolated in his personal grief, and seems to tip over to the left, away from the table at which Gusta is sitting. The table is covered with a white cloth, and instead of suggesting the place in a room which brings everybody together, it reminds us of a death shroud, the death shroud in which their son was returned to them. A painting on the wall, with its bright colors and bold shapes, might suggest a German expressionist work. A black chair at the table is a further reference to the absence of a loved one.
Strangely enough, not one single reference to this personal tragedy can be found in Gust De Smet's paintings. In Obsession Van den Berghe reveals himself as a mature artist and a delicate oberver of the human condition: in grief, one stands alone.