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  Gustave Marissiaux, Photographer

Born in Marles-les Mines (Pas-de-Calais district), France on September 1, 1872, Gustave Marissiaux was the youngest of a trio of sons born to Gustave Leopold Marissiaux, an architect who specialized in mining. Eleven years' later, the family relocated to Liege, Belgium, where the sons eventually became Belgian citizens. Liege was also where the youngest Marissiaux son would meet his wife and muse, Marie Therese Micha de Seraing. By 1894, Gustave Marissiaux was a law student, but an introduction to photography forever changed his career path. He was shortly thereafter elected to the Association Belge de Photographie, or Belgian Association of Photography (A.B.P.), which is where the regional Pictorialism movement officially began, with the aspiring young photographer leading the way.

Clearly influenced by the Impressionist painters of the period (most notably Rembrandt and Eugene Delacroix), Mr. Marissiaux discussed his style in an 1899 lecture entitled, "Art and Photography," in which he contended that the resulting photograph should adequately express both the "temperament" of the sitter as well as the personality of the photographer. His understanding of painting composition was applied to his images in terms of color, tone, and his use of light and shadow. A gifted portraitist, Mr. Marissiaux produced a series of psychological studies that revealed his works to be a delicate balance between "personal vision" and "innovative aesthetic sense." By the turn of the century, he was clearly established as the preeminent Belgian Pictorialist, and undoubtedly inspired the works of American-based photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

Gradually, Mr. Marissiaux's discerning lens turned from portraiture to landscapes. In 1900, he made the first of what became annual trips to Italy, where the art, rustic scenery, and Venetian canals provided rich sources of inspiration that lent themselves well to his composition techniques. His celebrated Venice series of images (1903) were widely regarded as the pinnacle of European Pictorialism, and earned Mr. Marissiaux the nickname "the Constantin Meunier of photography," an homage to the Brussels-based painter who championed the working class. Following Mr. Meunier's lead, he explored the application of photography as an instrument of social commentary. As a member of the commission formed by Liege Syndicate of Coal Board, he documented the conditions of the local coalminers from an Impressionist perspective. The result was the award-winning "Coalmine," a collective masterwork consisting of 450 portraits and stereoscopic images, which was featured at Liege's Universal Exhibition (1905). They were later exhibited extensively as gum-bichromate prints.

In later years, Mr. Marissiaux experimented extensively with color photography, producing several misty landscapes with deftly applied sepia tones as well as a controversial series of nudes. However, it was clear by the end of World War I, Pictorialism had lost its commercial appeal. Following the deaths of his parents and his wife in rapid succession, Mr. Marissiaux retreated to the south of France, where he died at Cagnes-sur-Mer on May 12, 1929. Many of Gustave Marissiaux's works can be found at the Museum of Photography of Charleroi, with his "Coalmine" images housed at Liege's Musee de la Vie Wallonne.

1908 The Amateur Photographer and Photographic News, Vol. XLVII (London: Hazell, Watson & Viney), p. 525.

2015 Belgian Photographic Literature of the 19th Century by Steven F. Joseph (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press), p. 48.

1908 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. LV (London: Henry Greenwood & Co. Ltd.), p. 545.

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 894-895.
1998 A New History of Photography by Michel Frizot (Cologne, Germany: Könemann), p. 297.

2017 Gustave Marissiaux (URL:

2011 Gustave Marissiaux et Désiré Deleuze, Photographes Miniers Belges (URL:

2017 Marissiaux, Gustave (1872 - 1929) (URL:

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