Paintings by Maurice van Essche frequently feature abstracted and silhouetted figures in landscapes, often surrounded by trees. These works demonstrate the artist’s early tutelage at the Brussels Academy under James Ensor, the illustrative style evident in his later works being attributable to his training as a stained-glass artist in Belgium.
In this early work executed during van Essche’s Congolese period, the artist models the figures with greater detail and realism, creating a pictorial depth that recedes with the aid of graded planes of colour. The sense of quiet languor in the tropical heat is increased through the use of theatrical lighting which casts his figures and the surrounding grove of trees in strong shadows that emphasize their form.
The influence of Henri Matisse, from whom van Essche took lessons in Paris, can also be observed in the sensual, linear treatment of the women and the graceful curves of the tree further accentuated by the geometric patterning of the kuba cloth skirts and headscarf. This treatment, along with the warm palette, conveys to the viewer the prospect of an African Arcadia, definitive of van Essche’s oeuvre.