'Symbolism in Belgium'

By Peeters, Nic | British Art Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

'Symbolism in Belgium'


Peeters, Nic, British Art Journal


'Symbolism in Belgium'

Musees royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 26 March-27 June

According to Elizabeth Prettejohn, Symbolism is the link between the Pre-Raphaelites and Surrealism. The art generally known as 'Symbolism' flourished in quite a few European countries, but especially in France and Belgium around the turn of the previous century. It is generally agreed that Symbolism started with the publication of manifestos in Paris and Brussels during the year 1886. In Brussels the public came to know Symbolist art mainly through the annual exhibitions organised by the artistic associations of 'Les XX' and 'La Libre Esthetique'. These associations were truly international: they invited foreign artists to exhibit with them and their members showed their work in Paris, Venice, Weimar and Amsterdam among other European cities. They also kept a keen eye on the British art scene.

The Belgian Symbolists particularly admired both the first and second generation Pre-Raphaelites in Britain. In fact, the second generation, with Edward Burne-Jones at its centre, has for some years now been known as the 'British Symbolists'. There were many personal and artistic ties between the Belgian and British groups. Fernand Khnopff, the most famous Belgian Symbolist, was a friend of Burne-Jones and exhibited frequently at London's New Gallery, which was the most important platform for late Pre-Raphaelite art from 1888 till 1909. Other Belgian Symbolists such as Willy Schlobach and Jean Delville either visited London and other parts of Britain or even lived and worked there for a number of years. The works of British artists such as Ford Madox Brown, William Holman Hunt, William Morris, Walter Crane and George Frampton were exhibited at shows of 'Les XX' and 'La Libre Esthetique' in Brussels where paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones and again Madox Brown became known through Frederick Hollyer's photos. A large number of pictures by the Pre-Raphaelite photographer Julia Margaret Cameron met with great success in the same city: Besides all this, both groups shared the use of English and Belgian literature (eg, the writings of Christina Rossetti and Maurice Maeterlinck) as well as the act of looking within oneself as an important source of inspiration. Consequently, the same recurring themes appear in both the works of the Pre-Raphaelites and those of the Belgian Symbolists: the femme fatale, the feminine ideal, androgyny, the mirror as a symbol of introspection and the interrelated concepts of sleep and death. This firm bond between the two schools of art is possibly best represented by Schlobach's La Morte ou Ophelia (The Dead Woman or Ophelia, 1899), which--reminiscent of John Millais's 1851-2 Ophelia--shows the corpse of a beautiful Lizzie Siddal look-alike floating down the Thames.

Not only in content but also in style, a large number of works at this exhibition betray the Belgian admiration for the Pre-Raphaelites. Khnopff's style is, of course, strongly related to the Aesthetic' approach of his great idol Burne-Jones. So is Xavier Mellery's, but in his work one also detects clear traces of Crane's and Evelyn De Morgan's more academic execution. Leon Frederic's fusion of photographic realism, achingly bright colours and spirituality;, displayed by, for instance, La nature ou La fecondite (Nature or Abundance, 1897), uncannily resembles later works by Holman Hunt such as The Triumph of the Innocents (1876-87). In his stunningly evocative paintings such as L'amour des ames (The Love of Souls, 1900) and L'ange des splendeurs (The Angel of Splendours, 1894) Jean Delville, the most esoteric Belgian Symbolist, placed his figures in almost abstract, cosmic compositions reminiscent of the 'British Symbolist' George Frederic Watts--who was close to the Pre-Raphaelites.

Regrettably, curator Michel Draguet does not draw attention to this Anglo-Belgian alliance in his exhibition. This is quite odd because he dedicates half a chapter to it in the book-length essay that he has published for the show and that serves as a catalogue This update of a 2004 publication makes excellent, informative reading and is profusely illustrated, including a colour print of Burne-Jones's The Golden Stairs (1872-80) that was on sale in Brussels during the 1880s. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Symbolism in Belgium'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.