E. Sergysels early pictorialist photos



Sergysels, discovering the pictorialist side of a modernist photographer

The Belgian photographer E. Sergysels (Brussels) is mainly known for his architectural photographs from the 1930s.
Alongside Willy Kessels he made the book “l’Architecture moderne en Belgique”, 1937. Being a professional photographer he was specialized in pictures of architectural creations and interiors.


Lesser known is his pictorialist work from the period before the first World War.
Although of genuinely fine quality, these photographs were hardly picked up in publications.

We publish a selection of 23 vintage pictorialist prints by Sergysels. The traditional pictorialist themes are all represented: landscapes, cityscapes and portraits.
Sergysels used the bromoil transfer technique. His prints are well finished and mounted with taste.


The conversation

Sergysels, discovering the pictorialist side of a modernist photographer This untitled bromoil that I gave the name “the conversation” is an example of excellent pictorialism.

Particilar here is the use of the snapshot, which was hardly done by pictorialists. Only masters like Demachy and Stieglitz used it.

The bromoil has a strong composition, with three clearly distinct levels: the baskets in front, the three ladies in the middle and the monumental fountain in the back.

The light playing in the hair of the two women adds depth to the image.
The picture has a supplementary dimension: confronting the anecdotic with the timeless.

Comparing side by side the bromoils with the silver prints

Luckily in the collection we found two sets of prints of the same subject in bromoil and silver print.
This gives us the opportunity to compare the two printing techniques and analyse Sergysels’ vision on pictorialism.

Luckily in the collection we found two sets of prints of the same subject in bromoil and silver print.

The two prints of the Watermill of Grimbergen were made from the same negative.
Besides the traditional differences between the two printing techniques (surface, contrast, detail and depth) there aren’t many major differences.

The blacks in the reflections and the trees of the bromoil are softer and more treated with the brush. The watermill is more prominent in the bromoil than in the silver print.
The silver print is a straight image of a watermill. The bromoil is a romantic interpretation of this scene.

If you compare the two prints as an object, however, the differences are more spectacular. The bromoil is well mounted on three layers of support. The silver print isn’t mounted. The bromoil is signed, the silver print has the photographer’s dry stamp. Then it becomes clear that the bromoil was more valuable for Sergysels than the silver print.

The side by side of these two images tells us more about Sergysels’ vision on pictorialism and modernism. He clearly understood the two languages.


This two print aren’t from the same negative but are the same setting. The two photos were probably made at the same time. The point of view is the same.

The first striking difference between the two images is the dynamic in the composition. The bromoil is probably a crop of the negative. The silver print is the full negative. The longer image of the silver print makes it more dynamic. In the silver print the arch or the bridge is more prominent, the perspective in the quay of the left is an important element in the composition and the image has more depth in the composition. In short, the silver print is more modernist.

The square proportion of the bromoil gives it a more static and monumental aspect. The image is also larger (the bromoil measures 19x22,5cm and the silver print 11,7x18cm).
In the bromoil the small boat is the main subject not the arch or the depth. It’s expressing the symbolic of the small boat entering the arch.
The two images have a different character and a different style.

The silver print isn’t mounted or signed. The bromoil is mounted and signed.

The side by side of these two images tells us more about Sergysels’ vision on pictorialism and modernism. He clearly understood the two languages.

Copyright, Xavier Debeerst, 10/2010

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The vintage photos featured on this website are single vintage photographs to be purchased as a collectors item.
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