i Gustave Strauven, The St. Cyr Hotel, Ambiorix Square, Brussels, 1903. Image: Jean-Pol Grandmont

Brussels, Capital of the Fin-de-Siècle

Dr Rachel Sloan

Seminars on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 May



Course description

While we might be accustomed to thinking of Paris as ‘the capital of the nineteenth century’, Brussels can also make a fair claim to that title. A cauldron of creative ferment, and determinedly cosmopolitan in outlook, Brussels was a key hub for two interrelated artistic movements at the turn of the century: Symbolism – which sought to peel away external realities and search for deeper meaning by exploring the imagination, the emotions and states of mind – and Art Nouveau, which applied many of these concerns to architecture and the decorative arts. In the course of our tour we shall immerse ourselves in the literature, music and history of the period whilst exploring the rich holdings of the Symbolist painting, sculpture and works on paper of the Musée Fin de Siècle and the Bibliothèque Royale, looking at Belgian artists Fernand Khnopff, George Minne and Léon Spilliaert as well as the international artists who exhibited alongside them, such as Edward Burne-Jones, Auguste Rodin, and Paul Gauguin. The sculpture and decorative objects in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, including Jef Lambeaux’s extraordinary Pavillon des passions humaines, reveal the breakdown of traditional boundaries between the ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ arts. A virtual tour of the Horta Museum and other highlights of Brussels Art Nouveau architecture, as well as two remarkable houses that are either inaccessible or no longer extant – the Palais Stoclet and the villa of Fernand Khnopff – will allow us a glimpse into the settings in which artists and patrons of both movements would have lived with their collections in an all-encompassing aesthetic environment.


Lecturer’s biography

Dr Rachel Sloan is Assistant Curator of Works on Paper at The Courtauld. She earned her PhD from The Courtauld with a thesis on Symbolism and artistic exchange between France and Britain. Rachel worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art before returning to The Courtauld in 2012. She has curated numerous exhibitions and displays including, most recently, Impressions of Modern Life: Prints from The Courtauld Collection (Royal Holloway, University of London, 2020). She is currently working on an exhibition of the drawings of the Vorticist artist Helen Saunders.