press release

Zach´ta Gallery is holding an exhibition by two representatives of symbolism from the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Félicien Rops (1833–1898) and William Degouve de Nuncques (1867–1935). Their works represent two contrasting artistic practices that coexisted within the compass of the same artistic movement. In Degouve's work, what we are dealing with is muted symbolism, both from a formal and a thematic perspective. The artist's landscapes and portraits take on a nostalgic spiritual form that often have a somewhat unreal quality and are always marked by a strong spirituality. Rops' works, meanwhile, are drawn from the realm of the taboo: in particular they depict women, their power over the world of men and over men's imagination. In so doing, Rops' works can be characterised as presenting a certain kind of pessimism and decadence, containing elements of a refined perversion and even sadism.

This exhibition, presenting the works of such differing artists and making reference to opposing elements of turn of the century symbolism, will take place in the period at the end of carnival, and thus is linked to a typical characteristic of the art of the low countries: 'the struggle between carnival and lent'.

Rops was above all a master of drawing and graphic techniques, but he in addition he was also both a painter and a writer. His oeuvre was one that underwent considerable evolution, taking in all the major movements of his time: romanticism, realism and symbolism. The exhibition at Zach´ta will enable the spectator to get a sense of the multi-faceted nature of the aesthetics and thematics of Rops' art: from works of his youthful period through to those of his realistic period; from works demonstrating the decadence of life with a predominance of representations of women to symbolic interpretations of the problem of the power of women over men; from illustrative works to travel pictures.

The work of William Degouve de Nunques is shown in Poland for the first time. His oeuvre is divided into a series of clearly marked stages. Degouve's symbolic landscapes imbued with a nostalgic, although somewhat frozen beauty, transgress the bounds of a straightforward tracking and objective relation of reality. Their originality is founded in infusing the subject with a lasting character and extracting from it a sense of the eternal. Degouve does not so much disrupt the boundaries of symbolism as, advance into the terrain of surrealism to the extent that Degouve has every right to be considered a precursor of the latter.

The works exhibited come from private collections in Europe, such as for example Ronny Van de Velde (Anvers) and Harold t'Kint (Brussels), from the Musées royeaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, from the Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliotheque royale Albert Ier in Brussels and from Province de Namur - Musée Félicien Rops.


only in german

The struggle between carnival and lent
Felicien Rops, William Degouve de Nuncques
Kuratoren: Bernadette Bonnier, Malgorzata Nawara