Contemplation signed 'Toussaint' (lower right) oil on canvas 31 11/16 x 25 9/16in (80.5 x 65cm)
Born into a cultivated upper-middle class family in Brussels in 1873, Fernand Toussaint began his artistic education at the age of fifteen at the Art Academy of Brussels under the tutelage of Jean-Francois Portaels. The young artist studied at the academy in Brussels from 1889 until 1894 and eventually made his way to Paris, where he studied under his countryman Alfred Stevens. Stevens moved freely in the cultural circles of the French capital, counting among his friends Charles Baudelaire, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. It is clear that the young Toussaint was also introduced into these elevated circles during his tenure with Stevens.
Toussaint made his reputation as a painter of women, not unlike Stevens. He was a darling of the upper class and noble families of Paris and his models w ere always depicted dressed in the latest fashion, placed in opulant surroundings and seated or standing in elegant poses. The avant-garde magazines of Paris took notice of the young artist when he was awarded a gold medal at the 1929 Paris Salon. In an article describing the exhibition in L'Illustration, the French art critic Jacques Baschet wrote regarding the artist's entry:
Faut-il ranger dans le genre ou le portrait ce "Printemps" de Mr. Toussaint, bien composé, coloré, chaudement peint? La fantasie dans la tradition flamande ne s'éloinge jamais beaucoup de la réalité. Pas d'autres symbols qu'une figure assisse, avec les attributes feminins de la saison nouvelle, la robe legère, les fleurs du chapeau, le châle qu'on rejette des épaules et, dans le regard fixe sur la vie, le secret d'un coeur..
Toussaint was also known as an engraver and designer of posters and telegrams for official occasions.
Toussaint is rightly considered to be one of the most important Belgian Post-Impressionist artists of the early 20th century. His ability to display feminine charm and grace is clearly demonstrated in Contemplation with the lightness of the brushstroke and palette, punctuated by the dark shawl and brunette curls of the sitter, which serve to underscore the thoughtful pose of the beautiful young woman.