Jean Delville

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Delville studio.jpg
Jean Delville in his studio in front of Orphée aux enfers, c. 1896
Born Jean Libert
(1867-01-19)January 19, 1867
Louvain, Belgium
Died January 19, 1953(1953-01-19) (aged 86)
Forest, Brussels, Belgium
Nationality Belgian
Education Ecole des Beaux-arts, Brussels
Known for Painting, poetry, essayist, teaching
Notable work Tristan et Yseult, (1887)
Le Cycle passionnel (1890; destroyed)
La Symbolisation de la Chair et de l'Esprit (1890)
L'Idole de la perversité (1891)
Mysteriosa. Portrait de Mme Stuart Merrill (1892)
La Morte d'Orphée (1893)
L'Ange des splendeurs (1894)
Les Trésors de Sathan (1895)
L'Ecole de Platon (1898)
L'Homme-Dieu (1903)
Prométhée (1907)
Le Justice à traverse les ages (1911-14; destroyed)
Les forces (1924)
Les dernières idoles (1931)
La Roue du monde (1940)
Style Classical idealist
Movement Idealist art (Symbolist art)
Spouse(s) Marie Delville (née Lesseine; married: 9 October 1893)
Awards Prix de Rome (1895)
Silver medal: L'Amour des Ames; Universal Exhibition, Paris (1900)
Gold medal: L'Ecole de Platon; Universal exhibition, Milan (1906)
Elected Member of the Jury: Belgian Prix de Rome (1904)
Premier professeur: Academie des beaux-arts, Brussels (1907)
Secretary: Belgian Theosophical Society (1909)
Member: Commission Royale des Monuments de Belgique (1919)
Decorated: Grand Officier de l'Ordre de Léopold (1921)
Member: l'Académie royal des sciences et des letters et des beaux-arts de Belgique (1924)
President: Fédération Nationale des Artistes Peintres et Sculpteurs de Belgique (1926)
Memorial(s) open-air bust on plinth: avenue des Sept Bonniers, Brussels

Jean Delville (19 January 1867, Leuven – 19 January 1953, Forest, Brussels) was a Belgian symbolist painter, writer, poet, polemicist, teacher, and Theosophist. Delville was the leading exponent of the Belgian Idealist movement in art during the 1890s. He held, throughout his life, the belief that art should be the expression of a higher spiritual truth and that it should be based on the principle of Ideal, or spiritual Beauty. He executed a great number of paintings during his active career from 1887 to the end of the second World War (many now lost or destroyed) expressing his Idealist aesthetic. Delville was trained at the Académie des Beaux-arts in Brussels and proved to be a highly precocious student, winning most of the prestigious competition prizes at the Academy while still a young student. He later won the Belgian Prix de Rome which allowed him to travel to Rome and Florence and study at first hand the works of the artists of the Renaissance. During his time in Italy he created his celebrated masterpiece L'Ecole de Platon (1898), which stands as a visual summary of his Idealist aesthetic which he promoted during the 1890s in his writings, poetry and exhibitions societies, notably the Salons d'Art Idéaliste.
Characteristically, Delville's paintings are idea-based, expressing philosophical ideals derived from contemporary hermetic and esoteric traditions. His esoteric perspective was mostly influenced by the work of Eliphas Levi, Edouard Schuré and Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, and later in his career, the Theosophical writings of Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant. The main underlying theme of his paintings, especially during his early career, has to do with initiation and the transfiguration of the inner life of the soul towards a higher spiritual purpose. Specifically they deal with themes symbolising Ideal love, death and transfiguration as well as representations of Initiates ('light bringers'), and the relationship between the material and metaphysical dimensions. His paintings and finished drawings are an expression of a highly sensitive visionary imagination articulated through precisely observed forms drawn from nature. He also had a brilliant gift for colour and composition and excelled in the representation of human anatomy. Many of his major paintings, such as his Les Trésors de Sathan (1895), l'Homme-Dieu (1903) and Les Ames errantes (1942), represent dozens of figures intertwined in complex arrangements and painted with highly detailed anatomical accuracy. He was an astonishingly skilled draughtsman and painter capable of producing works on a very large scale, many of which can be seen in public buildings in Brussels, including the Palais de Justice. Delville's artistic style is strongly influenced by the Classical tradition. He was a lifelong advocate of the value of the Classical training taught in the Academies. He believed that the discipline acquired as a result of this training was not as an end in itself, but rather a valuable means of acquiring a solid drawing and painting technique to allow artists freely to develop their personal artistic style without inhibiting their individual creative personality. Delville was a respected Academic art teacher. He was employed at the Glasgow School of Art from 1900 to 1906 and as Professor of drawing at the Académie des Beaux-arts in Brussels thereafter until 1937.
He was also a prolific and talented writer. He published a very great number of journal articles during his lifetime as well as four volumes of poetry, including his Le Frisson du Sphinx (1897) and Les Splendeurs Méconnues (1922). He authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets relating to art and esoteric subjects. The most important of his published books include his occult works, Dialogue entre Nous (1895) and Le Christ Reviendra (1913) as well as his seminal work on Idealist art, La Mission de l'Art (1900). He also created and edited several contemporary journals and newspapers during the 1890s promoting his Idealist aesthetic including L'Art Idéaliste and La Lumière.
Delville was also an energetic artistic entrepreneur, creating several influential artistic exhibition societies, including Pour l'Art and the Salons de l'Art Idéaliste in the 1890s and later, the Groupe d'Art Monumental in the 1920s which was responsible for the decoration of public buildings including the mosaics in the hemicycle of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels. He also founded the very successful Coopérative artistique, which provided affordable art materials for artists at the time.

Memorial bust of Jean Delville, Avenue Sept Bonniers, Brussels, Belgium
Cover of Delville's third poetry anthology Les Splendeurs Méconnues (1922)

Early years and training[edit]

Delville was born on 19 January 1867 at 2.00 a.m., rue des Dominicains in Louvain. He was born illegitimate into a working class household. His mother was Barbe Libert (1833-1905), the daughter of a canal worker who earned a living as a 'journalière' as an adult. Delville never knew his father Joachim Thibault who was a lecturer in Latin and Greek at a local college and who came from a bourgeoise family. He bore his mother's name until she married a functionary working in Louvain, Victor Delville (1840-1918). Victor adopted Jean who, until then, was known as Jean Libert. The family moved to Brussels in 1870 and settled in Boulevard Waterloo near Porte de Hal. The Delville family later moved to St Gilles where Delville began his schooling at the Ecole Communale in rue du Fort.
Delville took an early interest in drawing, even though his initial career ambitions were to become a Doctor. He was introduced to the artist Stiévenart by his adoptive grandfather, François Delville, while still a young boy. Delville recalls that this was 'the first artist I had ever seen, and for me, as a child, still unaware of my vocation, this was an enchanting experience.'[1]
At the age of twelve, Delville entered the famous Athénée Royale in Brussels. His interest in art developed around this time and he received his father's permission to enrol in evening drawing classes at the Académie des Beaux-arts in the rue du Midi in 1879. He entered the course for drawing ‘après la tête antique’ (after the classical head) and in 1882 classes for drawing ‘après le torse et figure’ (after torso and face). Soon after he gave up his schooling at the Athénée to study full-time at the Académie. In 1883, he enrolled in the ‘cours de peinture d’après nature’ (class in painting after nature) under the direction of the celebrated teacher Jean-François Portaels (1818-1895). Portaels objected to Delville's youth, but he excelled in the entrance examination and was unconditionally admitted to study painting under Portaels and Joseph Stallaert. Delville was a precocious talent and at the age of only 17 he won many of the major prizes at the Academy including ‘drawing after nature’, ‘painting after nature’, ‘historical composition’ (with high distinction), ‘drawing after the antique’, and ‘figure painting’.[2]

Artistic career 1887-1900[edit]

L'Essor, 1887-1891[edit]

Delville first exhibited in a public context at the moderate exhibition society called l'Essor from 1887 to 1891. His early works were largely depictions of working class -and peasant life executed in a contemporary realist style influenced by Constant Meunier. Delville's early efforts exhibited in 1887 were largely favourably reviewed in the contemporary press, notably l'Art Moderne and the Journal de Bruxelles, even if they were seen to be eclectic and derivative of the works of older established artists. These included works inspired by Baudelaire's poetry including his Frontispiece and L'épave (now lost) and his main work La Terre of which a detailed drawing still survives.
The following year his works were singled out as among the most outstanding of the 1888 exhibitors at L'Essor. This was the year in which he exhibited his highly controversial study for his painting La Mère depicting a woman in labour. A contemporary review described it in the following: 'On a huge bed with purple sheets … a dishevelled standing woman displays her nudity as she writhes in spasmodic movements, bending under the pains of childbirth. Her face is contorted, her gnashing teeth alternate with the curse, her clenched hands lift the bed cover over her belly in an unconscious reflex of modesty … abominable vision ….! and poor women!' This subject, rarely depicted in art, was seen to be shocking and contrary to bourgeois taste. It does however signal an aspect of Delville's art to depict ideas that are vivid and provocative.

During the 1880s, Delville’s work tended towards social realism. This included images of workers and peasants (Soir and Paysan, 1888); of beggars and destitution (Asile de nuit, 1885); of hunger (L’Affamé,1887) and ultimately of death (Le Dernier Sommeil, 1888). Here he focussed on themes of poverty, despair and hopelessness. In an undated drawing titled Le las d’Aller Delville depicts a fallen figure curled up on his side in a barren landscape, asleep, or perhaps even dead. However, during the period 1888-9 his artistic interests started developing in a more non-realist direction and began to move towards Idealism which dominated his work from then on. This was first indicated in his Fragment d’une composition: Le cycle de la passion (now lost) displayed at L'Essor on 1889. The final work Le Cycle passionnel (9 x 6 metres) was displayed at L'Essor the following year (1890) and was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. It depicts a vast composition of intertwined figures floating through the nether regions of hell. The theme concerns lovers who have succumbed to their erotic passions. One of the main themes of initiation is to control one's lower passions in order to achieve spiritual transcendence. This painting of this work represents this idea in metaphoric form. This is an early major work by Delville sadly destroyed in the incendiary attack on Louvain in 1914. Despite its importance, it was not received with much enthusiasm in the contemporary press.
Another work that display Delville's growing interest in non-realist ideas during the 1880s is his more well-knownTristan et Yseult (Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels, 1887). The work is inspired by Wagner's eponymous opera and deals with the relationship between love and death and the idea of transcendence that can be achieved through both. It is an early work that reveals themes closely related to the initiatory tradition which is fully discussed in Brendan Cole's recent book on Delville.
A further important work dealing with non-realist, or Idealist, subject matter was exhibited by Delville at the final L'Essor exhibition in 1891 titled La Symbolisation de la chair et de l'ésprit (the original is lost, but a detailed study recently came up for auction). It depicts a naked female figure dragging a nude male beath the water. Bright light appears above the male figure while dark sub-aquatic vegetation surrounds the base of the female. The initiatory theme here is self-evident in its depiction of the conflict between spirit (light) and matter (dark vegetation). The male aspires towards the light but is dragged down towards the bottom of the dark mass of water. The work establishes an essential duality between consciousness/unconsciousness, light/dark, as well as spirituality and materialism. In Delville's writings he emphasises this duality and its reconciliation; a theme that pervades much of Symbolist art and writings and was conspicuous amongst Romantic artists as well, especially the writings of Goethe. The theme dominates Delville's art. He wrote that:

'Men have two very distinct trends in them. One of these two trends is physical, which must, of course, provide for his preservation by physical means, having the task of sustaining tangible life, sustaining the body. The other trend, which is not only immaterial but indefinable, is that which arises as a perpetual aspiration beyond the material, for which this world is not enough: it is this ‘something else’ that overcomes all distances or is, rather, unknowable. This is the very threshold of the occult world, in front of which all science, seized with unsteadiness, prostrates itself in the insuperable premonition of a world beyond!'[3]

Pour L'Art 1892-1895[edit]

Delville's growing interest in Idealist art led him to instigate a succession from L'Essor to start a new exhibition society called Pour L'Art. Many of the younger artists of L'Essor followed him which led to the dissolution of that group. Pour L'Art became one of the noted avant-garde exhibition societies on Brussels at the time. The leading avant-garde exhibition forum at the time was Les XX. Following Les XX, Pour L'Art invited international artists as well, several of whom became well known in Symbolist circles, including Carlos Schwabe, Alexandre Séon, Chales Filiger and Jan Verkade. Their first exhibition took place in November 1892 and the works displayed were executed in either an Impressionist or Symbolist idiom. Delville designed the poster for the first exhibition depicting a long-necked sphinx – a key symbol of the period – cupping a flaming chalice in her hands. Delville's main work of that year was his L'Idole de la Perversité which can be considered one of the major images of the period. The new group received a largely positive press during the time. The group was closely associated with Joséphin Péladan's Salons de la Rose+Croix in Paris, and Péladan was frequently invited to lecture in Brussels at the time by members of the Pour L'Art group.
The second exhibition of the Pour L'Art group took place in January 1894. Significantly the society also included the applied, or decorative arts, which were become widely popular at the time and a particular feature of Art Nouveau. Tapestries, bookbindings, and wrought-iron work was displayed alongside the paintings. The influence of Delville and Péladan was evident in the predominance of idealist works of art influenced by late fifteenth-century Florentine art, the work of Gustav Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes and the tendency towards large-scale figure compositions. The show was enthusiastically received by the press.
Delville's main works exhibited that year was his celebrated La Mort d'Orphée (1893, Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels) and his outstanding Mysteriosa or Portrait of Mrs Stuart Madame Stuart Merrill (1892, Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels). His work was enthusiastically praised in the press. The leading critic Ernest Verlant wrote:

One of the principal members of the Pour L’Art group, in view of his talent and astonishing fecundity, is Jean Delville, who is also a writer and a poet; with a powerful imagination that is funereal and tormented. These epithets are equally suited to his large painting La Proie, a crimson vision of apocalyptic murder, similar to his vast composition from last year, Vers l’inconnu, and of several before that. … Here and there, for example, in L’homme du glaive, the Murmure profane, and Mysteriosa, he pushes the intensity of expression to its extreme. Elsewhere, as in Satana, he draws together, rather bizarrely, esoteric attributes in a figure derived from da Vinci. But we are able only to express praise in front of Orphée, a dead head floating between the shafts of a large lyre; in front of Elegia, a long and supple female body appearing under the spurting and cascading waters of a fountain; in front of Au Loin and Maternitas, two figures pensively leaning on their elbows, of which the first of the two has a great nobility. These works are monochrome, or nearly so. Their expression is accurate, fine, subtle, refined, not too explicit, and all the more eloquent.[4]

The final Pour L'Art show took place in January 1895. Delville also participated for the last time in Péladan's Salons de la Rose+Croix. This was the year when he began preparing the formation of his own exclusively Idealist exhibition Society, the Salons d'Art Idéaliste, which opened the following year. By this time the Pour L'Art Salons were well-established, successful and enthusiastically supported by the contemporary press. Delville's L'Ange des splendeurs (1894, Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels), was Delville's main work of that show. Although not widely praised it stands, according to Brendan Cole, as one of his initiatory paintings par excellence of Delville's oeuvre [5]

The Salons d'Art Idéaliste 1896-1898[edit]

Delville's Salons D'Art Idéaliste were exclusively devoted to exhibiting artwork of an Idealist nature. Delville signalled his programme in a series of polemical articles during the course of the months preceding the opening of the first Salon, which created some controversy amongst his contemporaries. Delville's ideas were bold and confrontational, but it was characteristic of him to stick to the courage of his convictions and to carry his projects through with relentless energy and determination. The aim of the Salons were couched in a short manifesto published before the opening of the first Salon. This is an early instance of a new avant-garde art movement supported by a manifesto; something that would be a commonplace in later Modernist movements and after. The Salons were also accompanied by a series of lectures and musical soirées. Delville's Salons were also significant for their inclusion of women artists, something almost unheard of in other contemporary avant garde exhibition societies. The manifesto provides a valuable record of the Idealist movement founded by Delville:

The intention of the Salons d’Art Idéaliste is to give rise to an aesthetic Renaissance in Belgium. They bring together, in one annual grouping, all the scattered elements of artistic idealism, that is to say, works with the same leanings towards beauty. Wishing in this way to react against the decadence, against the confusion of the so-called realist, impressionist or libriste schools (degenerate art forms), the Salons d’Art Idéaliste champion the following as eternal principles of perfection in a work of art: thought, style, and technique The only thing they recognize as free, within aesthetics, is the creative personality of the artist, and maintain, in the name of harmony, that no work is susceptible to true art unless it is composed of the three absolute terms, namely: spiritual beauty, plastic beauty and technical beauty. Similar, if not identical, to the Parisian Rose & Croix Salons created by Sâr Joséphin Péladan and to the Pre-Raphaelite movement in London, the Salons d’Art Idéaliste claim to wish to continue, through modern developments, the great tradition of idealist art, from the ancient masters to present-day masters.[6]

Delville's main work exhibited that year was his visionary Trésors de Sathan (1895, Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels). The work had previously been on show at the Salon de Gand. The depiction of a satanic figure represented under water was unique in Western Art. Instead of wings he is represented with long octopus tentacles. His 'treasures' are the sleeping figures surrounded with jewels and gold coins; objects representing materialism and avarice. The figures show no sign of torment, but are rather represented in a state of somnolent bliss, as though they have succumbed to all that is 'satanic' in Delville's occult view; sensual pleasure and materialism. The work is an apotropaic icon against the snares of the lower passions and the world of matter and sensuality generally.
The second Salon took place in March 1897 at Edmond Picard's arts venue, la Maison d'Art. Delville's contributions were small and included his Orphée aux Enfers, Parsifal and L’Oracle à Dodone; which are now, apart from Parsifal, in private collections. At the time Delville was in Italy on his prescribed sojourn there after winning the coveted Prix de Rome. The show received largely positive reviews in the press and Delville's Salons were becoming more widely accepted, despite his aggressive polemics in the months prior to their establishment which hackled his contemporaries. What was noted as a feature of this Idealist art was its intellectual nature and the proclivity towards the expression of ideas.
The final Salon d'Art Idéaliste took place in March 1898 and was marked by the exhibition of Delville's great masterpiece, his l'Ecole de Platon (1898, Musée D'Orsay), which marked the culmination of his Idealist programme and widely celebrated amongst his contemporary critics, even those who were previously hostile to his art and aesthetic programme.[7]

After 1900[edit]

In 1895 Delville published his Dialogue entre nous, a text in which he outlined his views on occultism and esoteric philosophy. Brendan Cole discusses this text in detail his book on Delville, pointing out that, though the Dialogue reflects the ideas of a number of occultists, it also reveals a new interest in Theosophy. In the late 1890s, Delville joined the Theosophical Society. He was probably introduced to Theosophy directly through his friendship with Edouard Schuré, the author of the widely-influential book Les Grandes Initiés. Schuré wrote the preface to Delville's work on Idealist Art, La Mission de l'Art (1900). Delville also came into close alliance with Annie Besant who inherited the leadership of the Theosophical movement. Besant gave a series of lectures in Brussels in 1899 titled La Sagesse Antique. Delville reviewed her talks in an article published in Le Thyrse that year.[8] It is probably from this point onwards that Delville became actively involved in the Theosophical Movements as such. Delville founded La Lumière, a journal devoted to Theosophical ideas in 1899, and published articles from leading Theosophists of the day, including Besant. Delville became secretary of the Belgian branch of the Theosophical Society between 1909-13.[9]
Delville's art flourished after 1900 and he produced some of his greatest works during this period up to the First World War. He worked with undiminished strength and imagination and his paintings revealed a visionary sense of the transcendental inspired by his involvement in the Theosophical movement, such as his monumental L'Homme-Dieu (1903, Brughes: Groeninge Museum) and Prométhée (1907, Free University Brussels). His most striking achievement, however, is his series of five vast canvases that decorated the Cour d'Assises in the Palais de Justice on the theme of 'Justice through the Ages'. These works, monumental in conception and scale and no doubt amongst his finest, were unfortunately destroyed during the second World War as a result of German bombing of the Palais de Justice on the 3rd of September 1944. The irony of this action in relation to the theme of this cycle of paintings cannot be overlooked. Small-scale replacements were installed during the reconstruction of the Palais after the War. The gigantic original central painting titled, La Justice, la Loi et la Pitié, measured 11 metres by 4.5 metres. This worked was flanked by two works, La Justice de Moïse and La Justice chrétienne (both 4 by 3 metres). The two remaining panels represents Justice of the past and present: La Justice d'autrefois and La Justice moderne.[10]

Professor at the Glasgow School of Art[edit]

Poster advertising Delville's private atelier, c. 1906

Delville hoped to secure a teaching place at the Academy in Brussels, but was offered instead a teaching position at the flourishing Glasgow School of Art in 1900. His tenure there was highly successful, and the works of the students he trained were celebrated at the annual exhibitions in London. When Delville returned to Brussels in 1907, many of his British students followed him to further their training under his tutelage in his private studio in rue Morris. At that time, Delville fulfilled his ambition to teach at the Brussels Academy and was appointed Professor of Life Studies, a post he held until his retirement in 1937.[11] p. 26.

The First World War: Art in exile[edit]

When War broke out, Delville, amongst many Belgians, were welcomed in Britain as exiles. He moved there with his entire family, including his wife and four younger children and settled in Golders Green in London. His two oldest sons, Elie and Raphaël Delville, were conscripted into the Belgian War Effort (both survived the conflict). Delville played an active role in London, through his writings, art and public addresses (he was a gifted orator) in support of the Belgians in exile and the conflict against the Germans. He edited a newspaper in London, L'Indépendence Belge, wrote several articles and poems virulently condemning German aggression. He founded, with other Belgian refugees, La Ligue des Patriotes, and was instrumental in the creation of the publication Belgian Art in Exile the sale of which raised money for Belgian charities in England. The work contains a great number of representative paintings and other works of art by contemporary Belgian artists. At that time Delville was also an active Freemason and established La Loge Albert 1er to reunite Belgian Freemasons in exile living in Britain.[12]
His time in exile also inspired several important paintings, including: Les Mères (1919), depicting a group of mourning mothers surrounded by dead corpses of their fallen sons, La Belgique indomptable (1919), depicting a sword-wielding female figure holding off an attacking eagle, and Sur l'Autel de la patrie (1918), a modern pieta depicting a female figure with the corpse of a bleeding dead soldier at her feet. His most notable work of this period is his Les Forces (completed in 1924), depicting two vast celestial armies confronting each other. The forces of light, represented on the right, are led by a Christ-like figure seated on a horse and a torch-bearing winged figure leading an army of angels into the fray against a battalion of dark forces streaming in from the left. The work is on open display in the Palais de Justice in the vast 'cour des pas perdus' and is grand in scale, measuring 5 metres by 8 metres.

The 'Société de l'Art Monumental' 1920[edit]

Jean Delville, Les Palmes de la Victoire 1920, mosaic, Cinquantenaire, Brussels
Jean Delville, Les Trompettes de la Victoire, 1920, mosaic, Cinquantenaire, Brussels
Jean Delville, Le victoire de la Justice et de la paix, 1920, mosaic, Cinquantenaire, Brussels

From an early point in his career Delville was interested in producing art that would be displayed in public spaces for the edification of all. For him, art was a means of uplifting the public, and to this end he despised art that was produced for an elite clique, sold by dealers for the benefit of collectors who saw in art no more than an investment opportunity. Delville's ideals were strongly aligned to the idea of a social purpose for art, about which he wrote extensively during his career. In his Mission de l'Art he wrote: 'If the purpose of Art, socially speaking, is not to spiritualise the weighted thinking of the public, then one has the right to ask oneself, what is truly its usefulness, or more precisely, its purpose'.[13]
Although he had already created several large artistic schemes that decorated public buildings, notably his panels for the Palais de Justice, his ambition formally to pursue this aim was finally realised in 1920 when he collaborated with several leading painters of his generation to create the Société de l'Art Monumental (Society for Monumental Art). The aim of the group was to bring together painters, artists and architects who would draw attention to the need for art specifically created for public buildings.
An important realisation of this aim was the decoration of the walls in the colonnades of the hemicycles flanking the Arcade of the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Five artists collaborated with Delville on this project: Constant Montald, Emile Vloors, Omer Dierickx, Emile Fabry and Albert Ciamberlani. The last two were friends of Delville's since his days at the Academy and had collaborated on many project before. Most of these artists had also exhibited in Delville's Idealist forums, Pour L'Art and the Salons d'Art Idéaliste during the 1890s.
The project went ahead under the patronage of King Albert I, and was paid for through a scheme of national subscription.
The overall theme of this major cycle of works was a patriotic commemoration of 'The Glorification of Belgium' following the Great War through allegorical images relating to War and peace. In 1924 Delville expressed his idea for the cycle as a 'vision of a frieze in mosaic unfurling its rhythm of lines and its harmony of colours between the columns of the hemicycle'[14]
Each artist prepared six individual works (cartoons) that were then adapted to the final mosaics which were three metres high and aligned to the top part of the wall. The total distance of all the mosaics was 120 metres. An overall harmony of all the individual panels was achieved by ensuring that the artists adhered to a few common rules of composition: using the same horizon line, using the same scale for the figures, and adhering to a limited palette of related colours. The specific theme to the left of the arcade is that of Belgium at peace. Works by Fabry, Vloors and Montald represented respectively: the material life, intellectual life and moral life. The specific theme to the right side represent heroic Belgium, with works by Delville, Ciamberlani and Dierickx representing respectively: Victory, the Tribute to Heroes and War.
The project was conceived between 1922 and 1926 and completed in 1932. The mosaics themselves were executed by Jean Lahaye and Emile Van Asbroeck of the company A Godchol.[15]
This monumental creation was a vindication of Idealist trends in art presented in a public space and gave his artistic perspective a wider visibility amongst the general public.[16]
Working towards the public good and alleviating the suffering of mankind was also a principle ideal of the Theosophists, an ideal to which Delville's subscribed throughout his life. Delville's Theosophical-socialist views were articulated in two articles his published before the War: Socialisme de demain (1912) and Du Principe sociale de l'Art (1913).

Selected Works[edit]

Prints and Drawings[edit]

  • L'Agonie de Cachaprès (1887), charcoal on paper, 33 x 34.5 cm. Brussels: Musée d'Ixelles, inv. CL240
  • Tristan et Yseult, (1887), pencil and charcoal on paper, 44.3 x 75.4 cm. Brussels: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. 7927.
  • Le Deniere Sommeil (1888), charcoal, 44 x 57 cm. Private collection (Portrait of his grandmother on her death bed)
  • Mendiants à Paris (1888), pencil on paper, 48.2 x 66.2 cm. Tournai: Musée des beaux-arts.
  • Les Las d'Aller (1890), pencil on paper, 8.7 x 10.7 cm. Tournai: Musée des Beaux-arts.
  • study for Le Cycle des passions, (1890), Bruxelles: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique.
  • Allégorie de l'enfer (Azraël), (1890). Private collection.
  • Parsifal (1890), charcoal on paper, 70.7 x 56 cm. Private collection.
  • L'Idole de la perversité (1891), pencil on paper, 98.5 x 56.5 cm. Private collection.
  • La Méduse (1891), pencil, ink and mixed media, 15.2 x 35.6 cm. Chicago: Chicago Institute of Art.
  • Portrait de Madame Stuart Merrill or Mysteriosa, pastel, (1892), pencil and coloured pastel on paper, 40 x 32.1 cm. Bruxelles: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. 12029.


  • La Coulée d'acier (1886)
  • L'Affamé (1887), oil on canvas, 80x100 cm. Private collection (recently rediscovered).
  • La Symbolisation de la Chair et de l'Esprit (1890), location unknown.
  • La Morte d'Orphée (1893), oil on canvas, 79.3 x 99.2 cm. Brussels: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. 12209.
  • Le Christ glorifié par les enfants (1894), oil on canvas, 222 x 247 cm. Antwerp: Academy of Fine Arts (Prix de Rome entry).
  • L'Ange des Splendeurs (1894), oil on canvas, 127 x 146 cm. Brussels: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. GC179.
  • Portrait du grand maître de la Rose-Croix, Joséphin Péladan en habit de chœur, 1894, oil on canvas, 242 x 112 cm. Nîmes: musée des Beaux-arts
  • Les Trésors de Satan, 1895, oil on canvas, 258 x 268 cm. Brussels: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. 4575.
  • L'Oracle à Dodone (1896), oil on canvas, 118 x 170 cm. Private collection.
  • L'École de Platon, (1898), oil on canvas, 260 x 605 cm. Paris: Musée d'Orsay, inv. RF1979-34.
  • L'Amour des âmes (1900), tempera and oil on canvas, 268 x 150 cm. Brussels: Musée communal des beaux-arts d'Ixelles, inv. 1942.
  • Homme-Dieu, (1903), oil on canvas, 500 x 500 cm. Bruges: Groeningemuseum.
  • Prométhée (1907), oil on canvas, 500 x 250 cm. Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles.
  • La Justice à traverse les ages, (1911-14) Palais de Justice de Bruxelles; detroyed by German bombing at the end of WWII
  • L'Oubli des passions (1913), oil on canvas, 169 x 146 cm. Private collection.
  • La Belgique indomptable (1919), oil on canvas, 177 x 127 cm. Location unknown.
  • Portrait de la femme de l'artiste, (1916). Bruxelles: Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique.
  • Sur l'autel de la patrie (1918), oil on canvas, 305 x 205. Brussels, Royal Academy of Fine Art.
  • Les Mères (1919), oil on canvas, 112 x 144 cm. Dinant: City collection, inv. 203.
  • Dante buvant les eaux de Léthé (1919), 142 x 179 cm. Private collection.
  • La Belgique indomptable (1919), oil on canvas, 177 x 127 cm.Location unknown.
  • Les forces (1924), oil on canvas, 500 x 800 cm. Brussels: Palais de la Justice.
  • Le Génie vainqueur du temps et de l'Espace [1927], oil on canvas, 460 x 350 cm (?). Brussels: Palais de Justice.
  • Hélène, le fille du Cyne (1928), oil on canvas, 205 x 135 cm. Private collection.
  • L'Ecole du Silence (1929), oil on canvas, 180 x 153 cm. Taiwan: Chi Mei Museum.
  • Les ténebrès à la lumière (1929), oil on canvas, 205.5 x 93.5 cm. Private collection.
  • Le dieu vaincu par l'amour (1930). Private collection
  • Les Femmes d'Eleusis, (1931), oil on canvas, 110 x 140 cm. Tournai: Musée des Beaux-arts.
  • Le Secret de la Tombe (1931), oil on canvas, 135 x 195 cm. Private collection.
  • Les dernières idoles (1931), oil on canvas, 450 x 300 cm. Private collection
  • Seraphitus-Sepraphita (1932), oil on canvas, 187 x 103 cm. Private collection.
  • L'Extase de Danté (1932), oil on canvas, 159 x 53.5. Private collection.
  • Le rêve de l'amour (1933), triptych, oil on canvas, 133 x 298 cm. Private collection.
  • Le Christ en Deuil (1933), oil on canvas, 200 x 215 cm. Private collection.
  • Les Idées (1934), oil on canvas, 210 x 280 cm. Private collection.
  • La Libération (1936), oil on canvas, 180 x 250 cm. Private collection.
  • Le Dieu de la Musique (1937), oil on canvas, 240 x 146 cm. Brussels: Conservatoire Royale.
  • Le voile de la nuit (1937), oil on canvas, 168 x 127. Private collection.
  • Les quatres Kumaras (1938), oil on canvas, 112 x 56 cm. Private collection.
  • Pegasus (1938), oil on canvas, 114 x 95 cm. Mons: Musée de Beaux-arts de Belgique, inv. 285.
  • Le Fléau or La Force (1940), oil on canvas, 135 x 194 cm, Brussels: Galerie Uzal.
  • La Roue du monde (1940), oil on canvas, 298 x 231.1 cm. Antwerp: Royal museum of Fine Art, inv. 2607.
  • Les ames errantes (1942), oil on canvas, 150 x 330 cm. Private collection.
  • La vision de la Paix (1947), oil on canvas, 100 x 120 cm, private collection

Published works by Jean Delville[edit]


Le Sens de la Vie (n.d.).
L’Idéal Messianique (n.d.)
Dialogue Entre Nous. Argumentation Kabbalistique, Occultiste, Idéaliste (Bruges: Daveluy Frères, 1895).
La Mission de l’Art. Etude d’Esthétique Idéaliste. Préface d’Edouard Schuré (Bruxelles: Georges Balat, 1900).
Le Mystère de l’Évolution ou de la Généalogie de l’Homme d’après la Théosophie (Bruxelles: H. Lamertin, (1905).
Problèmes de la Vie Moderne (Bruxelles: “En Art”, 1905).
Dieu en Nous. Essai Théosophique d’Emancipation Spirituelle. Conférence Faite à la Branche Centrale Belge de la Société Théosophique (Bruxelles: c.1905).
Le Christ Reviendra, Le Christ en Face de l’Eglise et de la Science (Paris : Editions Théosophiques, 1913).
Discours prononcé par M. Jean Delville, Professeur, à l’occasion de la Distribution des Prix de l’Année 1921-1922, Ville de Bruxelles:Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts et Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (Bruxelles: E Guyot, 1923).
La Grande Hiérarchie Occulte et la Venue d’un Instructeur Mondial (Bruxelles: Les Presses Tilbury, 1925).
Considérations Sur L’Art Moderne, Ledeberg-Gand, Imprimerie Jules de Vreese, 1926 (Extrait du Bulletin Des Commissions Royales d’Art & d’Archéologie LXV e Année, 1926).
Krishnamurti, Révélateur des Temps Nouveaux (Bruxelles: Office de Publicité, 1928).
La Création d’un Conseil Supérieur des Beaux-Arts. Voeu de la Classe de Beaux-Arts de l’Académie Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1935).

Poetry anthologies[edit]

Les Horizons Hantés (Bruxelles: 1892).
Le Frisson du Sphinx (Bruxelles: H Lamertin, 1897).
Les Splendeurs Méconnues (Bruxelles: Oscar Lamberty, 1922).
Les Chants dans la Clarté (Bruxelles: à l’enseigne de l’oiseau bleu, 1927).


  • Brendan Cole, Jean Delville, Art between Nature and the Absolute, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.
  • Brendan Cole, « Jean Delville and the Belgian Avant-Garde : Anti-Materialist Polemics for 'un art annonciateur des spiritualités futures' », in Rosina Neginsky (dir.), Symbolism. Its Origins and Its Consequences, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, pp. 129-146.
  • Michel Draguet (dir.), Splendeurs de l’Idéal. Rops, Khnopff, Delville et leur temps. Liège: Musée de l’Art wallon, du 17 octobre décembre 1997.
  • Donald Flanell Friedman, « L’évocation du Liebestod par Jean Delville », in La Peinture (d)écrite, Textyles, n° 17-18. Bruxelles: Le Cri Édition, 2000, pp. 79-84.
  • Denis Laoureux, et al., Jean Delville (1867-1953) Maitre de l'idéal. Paris: Somogy éditions d'art, 2014.
  • Francine-Claire Legrand, Le Symbolisme en Belgique Brussels: Laconti, 1971.


  1. ^ Quoted in Armand Eggermont, 'Jean Delville. Peintre de la Figure et de l’Idée', 19 janvier 1867-19 janvier 1953, Le Thyrse, IVe série, no. 4 (1 April 1953), p. 152.
  2. ^ Miriam Delville, 'Jean Delville, mon grand-père' in Laoureux, et al. Jean Delville, Maître de l'idéal, pp. 14ff; and Brendan Cole. Jean Delville. Art Between Nature and the Absolute. pp. 19-22.
  3. ^ Jean Delville, ‘Conférence sur 'Comment on Devient Mage” du Sar Mérodack J. Péladan’, Le Mouvement Littéraire, 45 (8 Décembre 1893), p. 357.
  4. ^ Quoted in Cole, Jean Delville, Art between Nature and the Absolute, p. 93
  5. ^ Cole, Jean Delville, p. 291.
  6. ^ ‘Salons d’Art Idéaliste’, La Ligue Artistique, nr. 23 (4 December 1895), p. 6.
  7. ^ See Cole Jean Delville, pp. 115ff for a detailed discussion of Delville's Idealist Salons.
  8. ^ Delville, 'A propos de la Sagesse Antique. Conference de Mme Annie Besant', Le Thyrse, nr 9, 1st September 1899, pp. 65-6.
  9. ^ See Flaurette Gautier, Jean Delville et l'occulture fin de siècle. Unpublished Master's thesis, Tours: University Françous-Rabelais, 2012.
  10. ^ Miriam Delville, Jean Delville, mon grand-père p. 26.
  11. ^ Miriam Delville, Jean Delville, mon grand-père
  12. ^ See Olivier Delville, Jean Delville, peintre, 1867-1953, Brussels: Laconti, 1984, pp. 32-4.
  13. ^ Delville, La Mission de L'Art, 1900, p. 23.
  14. ^ Delville, 'Comment est né le project de la décoration de l'Hémicycle de l'Arcade du Cinquantenaire', in Gand Artistique November 1924, p. 256.
  15. ^ see Arcade et hémicycle Parc du Cinquantenaire at
  16. ^ See Emile Berger, ' Jean Delville et l'enjeu du monumental', in Laoureux, et al. Jean Delville, Maître de l'idéal. p. 126ff.

Retrospective exhibition[edit]

  • 2014 : Musée Rops à Namur : Jean Delville, maître de l'idéal

Popular Culture[edit]

Swedish Thrash Metal band Hexenhaus used this painting for the cover of their album A Tribute to Insanity (1988), while American death metal group Morbid Angel used this painting also for the cover of their second album, Blessed Are the Sick (1991).

External links[edit]