The Two Sisters or The Serruys Sisters

Georges Lemmen (Belgian, 1865-1916)

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  • Eight-year-old Jenny and twelve-year-old Berthe Serruys are dressed identically, but their attention is focused in different directions. Lemmen has rendered his young subjects as distinct individuals with a compelling presence.
  • The bold color scheme also contributes to the image’s power. Relying heavily on the Neo-Impressionist practice of using complementary colors, or opposites on the color wheel, Lemmen applied dots of green and orange pigments to create a vibrant contrast with the red dresses and blue background.
  • The painted wooden frame is a rare surviving example of an original Neo-Impressionist frame.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

A member of the enthusiastic Belgian contingent who adopted Neo-Impressionism, Georges Lemmen wed intensity of mood with intensity of color to create a double portrait of commanding presence. The subjects, eight-year-old Jenny and twelve-year-old Berthe, were daughters of a family friend. Their penetrating gazes, typical of Lemmen's detailed, austere approach to portraiture, recall the precise likenesses of the northern Renaissance tradition. Nothing could be further from a conventionally sentimental image of childhood.

For this likeness, Lemmen relied on blue, orange, red, and green—the complementary colors that stimulate the most vibrant contrasts—to produce a brilliant setting for his young subjects. Even the yellow hues of the brass vase are accompanied by contrasting points of violet in the background. Lemmen's at, painted wood frame, one of the few surviving Neo-Impressionist examples, continues this dialogue of complements, as its colors vary in response to the adjacent hues on the canvas. The artist adhered most closely to the Neo-Impressionist methods from 1890 to 1895, before turning to looser brushwork and less rigorous division of color. He was increasingly absorbed by decorative arts and crafts, a tendency suggested in this portrait by the patterned tablecloth and winding tendrils of money plant. The vibrant portrait, from the Holliday Collection, bequeathed to the Museum in 1979, contributes to the IMA's unusual strength in Belgian Neo-Impressionism.

Edmond Serruys [1843-1917], Menen, Belgium; by descent to his daughter, Jenny Serruys Bradley [1886-1983], Paris, France.{1} René de Gas and (Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris, France), sometime after the gallery's opening in 1962. (Kaplan Gallery, London, England) by 1966.{2} (Hammer Galleries, New York, New York) by 1967;{3} acquired by W.J. Holliday [1895-1977], Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1969;{4} by bequest to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1979 (79.317.)

{1} For information on the Serruys family, see Roger Cardon, Georges Lemmen (1865-1916), Antwerp, 1990, pp. 142-43.
{2 } See A Selection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings, Watercolours, Pastels and Drawings from the collection of the Kaplan Gallery, London, 1966, cat. no. 1 (cover ill.)
{3} See the advertisement for the Hammer Galleries in Art Journal, Fall 1967, p. 89 (ill.)
{4 } As cited in Ellen Wardwell Lee, The Aura of Neo-Impressionism: The W. J. Holliday Collection, Indianapolis, 1983, pp. 44-47(ill.)

Object Information

Georges Lemmen (Belgian, 1865-1916)
creation date
oil on canvas with painted wood frame
23-5/8 x 27-9/16 in. (canvas)
27-15/16 x 32-11/16 x 1-7/8 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed with stencilled monogram in red paint, lower left and lower right on frame: [capital C interlocked with capital L enclosed in circle]
Stamped in red ink on central stretcher bar: Barique De Couleur Toiles, Panneaux & Vernis Fx.Momm (EN) | 81, rue de la Chari(te) | Bruxelles, [enclosed in an oval]
Inscribed in black ink top stretcher bar: août-sept. 1894
Stamped in black ink on left bar and on verso of canvas (but illegible): Douane [_ _ _] /Exportation | Paris [enclosed in a circle]
accession number
credit line
The Holliday Collection
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture 1800-1945

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