Alfred Stevens was the brother of Joseph Stevens. He studied with Navez in Brussels and C. Roqueplan in Paris. His first paintings date from 1848. He spent most of his career in Paris, and exhibited regularly in Paris and Brussels. He was essentially a painter of women, most particularly Parisian women from the time of the Second Empire. Two of his paintings were to be seen in the former Musée du Luxembourg, when an exhibition of paintings by Belgian artists was held during World War I. His draughtsmanship is very accurate, his painting clear and luminous, with the paint quite thickly applied. In 1890, he became a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and continued exhibiting there regularly. At the time of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, he collaborated with Gervex on a Panorama of the History of the Century, made up of a large number of full-length portraits. In 1886, he published a work entitled Impressions of Painting ( Impressions sur la Peinture), which was translated into several different languages.
Alfred Stevens reacted against the misunderstood grandiloquence inherited from the Romantics and abandoned subjects he had painted at the start of his career, such as A Soldier Pining for his Homeland. He was a friend of Manet, but also a representative of realism, seen from the worldly angle of one who was familiar with the empress's court. He expressed the modern aspects of his time and was also one of the first connoisseurs of 'japonaiserie'. Though he was a friend of the Impressionists, particularly of Manet and Berthe Morisot, he himself cannot really be considered as an Impressionist. Bazille and Manet met at his house and he kept paintings by Manet in his studio in the hope of selling them. It was in his studio that Durand-Ruel saw the first two Manet paintings he bought in 1872.
Stevens was a corresponding member of the royal academies of Belgium and Madrid. In addition to the awards he received at the Salons, he won a large number of medals at the Expositions Universelles, including the Grand Prix in Paris in 1889 and 1900. He was made a Commander of the Légion d'Honneur and a Grand Officer of the Ordre de Léopold II.
2090, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels (retrospective)
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Antwerp: Woman in Despair; A Parisian Sphinx; Authorised Begging
Boston: The Attentive Listener
Brussels: Lady in Pink; Ladybird; Salome; Widow and her Children; The Road from Cap St-Martin to Menton; The Studio of Alfred de Knyff; The Studio; Autumn Flowers; Bunch of Flowers with Fallen Petals; Seascape; Female Figure; Every Happiness
Dallas (MA): The Visit (before 1869, oil on canvas)
London (NG): The Present (1866-1871, oil on canvas, on loan to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, since 1979); Storm at Honfleur (1890-1891, oil on canvas)
Munich: In the Boudoir
New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art): The Japanese Robe
Ostend (Mus. voor Schone Kunsten)
Pontoise: a pastel