Gallerist Thomas Deprez - the Indiana Jones of the art world

05.07.2018 - Agne Steponaityte

Thomas Deprez is a 25-year old art dealer specialising in Belgian art of the fin-de-siècle. Not bound by the restrictions of a classic gallery space, you can catch him presenting his collection at important art fairs in Belgium and abroad. His focus is mainly on the avant-garde artists of Les XX (Les Vingt) and on the Belgian symbolist painters.

After graduating as an art historian at the University of Ghent in 2015, he started his own business in order to pursue his passion for collecting. He has since sold works to several museums around the world and is always busy searching for the next discovery.

 

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
Definitely a treasure hunter. The Indiana Jones type of guy, but without the ruffled hat and all the fighting. I travel the world in search of exceptional works of art and try to get a hold of them. Today, of course, most of the searching is done online and from behind my desk. Still, I do about 50 to 60 thousand kilometers per year in my car. I’m constantly on the road. I even have a sleeping bag and spare set of clothes ready in my trunk.

Just like Indiana Jones, I have to know my stuff, and I never know where I will end up. I get to see amazing things and places and get to meet lots of interesting people (villains as well). I think kids might dig that.

Which Belgian artist(s) do you admire?
In an attempt not to sound too cliché, I would say Henry de Groux (1866-1930) - a dark-ish and rather obscure Belgian symbolist. He did his own thing, outside of all the norms. Gauguin called him one of the most important painters of the second half of the 19th century.

You know, Groux almost dueled Toulouse-Lautrec over his quarrel with Vincent Van Gogh. Brussels in the 1880s and early 1890s was a wild place…

Henry DE GROUX (1866-1930)  |  Charon or Dante on his way to the Inferno  |  Gouache on paper

What's your favourite Belgian museum/gallery?
Besides the Royal museums in Brussels and soon-reopening-in Antwerp, the Museum of Fine Arts of Ghent, the MuZEE in Ostend, the museums of Bruges, the new La Boverie in Liège, the Musée Rops in Namur, the now-closed-for-renovation Musée d’Ixelles (with the donations of Octave Maus, Fritz Toussaint and Max Janlet), and many more, there is one extraordinary - albeit neglected - gem that deserves to be highlighted: the Musée de Beaux-Arts de Tournai. The only museum the architect Victor Horta ever built, houses half of the collection of Henri Van Cutsem (1839-1904). Among the most important collectors in Belgium at the end of the 19th century, Van Cutsem was very much involved with the avant-garde artists of Les XX. You can find works there by Rubens and Rogier Van der Weyden, but also Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, and forgotten Belgian masterpieces like Guillaume Van Strydonck’s “Les Canotiers” from 1889. The other half of the collection is housed in the Musée Charlier in Brussels, and is, with its authentic domestic atmosphere, more than worth a visit as well!

What’s your favourite work of art?
Paul Cezanne’s “L’Avocat (L’oncle Dominique)” from 1866. I think.

Frantz CHARLET (1862-1928)  |  Self-portrait  |  Pastel on paper mounted on canvas, in its original frame  |  120 x 88 cm

Who / what should be banned from the art world?
Isn’t it precisely the idea of art that anything is possible and that anyone can create, interact, critique, interpret, study or simply marvel and admire? The art world should be governed like a tatami. For many Japanese people, it is the type of flooring material that defines the traditional home. For others - the field onto which they can measure their strength in one-on-one combat. Everyone should be allowed to enter the home or the competition as long as they follow certain basic rules, the most important one being: “always respect your opponent.”

What was the first artwork you bought for your collection?
A pastel drawing I got at an auction, for which I paid 45 euros. I eventually sold it to a very good dealer in London, and it now hangs in the National Gallery of Art of Washington.

Emile FABRY (1865-1966)  |  Prison, 1892  |  Oil on academic board  |  32 x 75 cm

Who is your biggest competitor?
Everyone is an art expert now. The rise in information available through the internet creates a huge but entirely false sense of expertise. By simply subscribing to databases like ArtPrice and ArtNet, a lot of people mistakenly think they’re able to decipher the complexities of the art market. However, they only have vague information on their hands and not enough variables on their screen.

Auction houses thrive on the DIY of buying art. Good dealers, however, will always offer you advice, assistance, guidance, guarantees, and their personal expertise. Even if you’re not a client. It’s in their best interest to share their knowledge as much as possible, and to try and communicate their passion in a way that people can resonate with it. After all, most of us wouldn’t be doing this if we were in it for the money.

 Which Belgian talent should we feature on Belgian Boutique next? Why?
I would like to see more illustrations by Leonard Cools being published. A young artist from Ghent, his drawings are as delicate and poetic as they are funny and insightful. Belgium is definitely going to see more of his drawings of naked people, plastic chairs and unfortunate tumblers in the near future.

Can art save the world?
No. But it can save you. Isn’t that enough?

Xavier MELLERY (1845-1921)  |  Majorité, ca. 1886  |  Crayon, ink in pen and wash, and gold background on paper  |  550 x 380 mm

All pictures © Thomas Deprez

More info: Official page

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