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In search of a national (s)cul(p)ture: the local, national and international identity of sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916)

Jana Wijnsouw (UGent)
(2015)
Author
Promoter
(UGent) and Tom Verschaffel
Organization
Abstract
Seemingly paradoxical, nineteenth-century society and culture are characterized by both an increased internationalization of cultural and artistic practices, and a growing importance of nationality. The role of national administrations and institutions, and the impact of ideas of national culture and identity in art theory, criticism and history cannot be underestimated. This dissertation elaborates on the social and cultural phenomenon of ‘national schools’ during the nineteenth century, via the less studied field of sculpture, and with Belgium as a case. The role, importance of and emphasis on certain aspects of ‘national identity’ evolved throughout the century, while a diverse array of criteria were indicated by commissioners, art critics, or artists, that supposedly constituted a ‘national sculpture’. Through the study of the trajectories of Belgian sculptors abroad, as well as the presence and reception of foreign sculptors in Belgium, the role of nationality and national culture in the creation of a ‘Belgian sculpture school’ are unveiled in four chronological parts. Part I, comprising the period between 1830 and 1850, focusses on the creation of statues of national heroes in Belgium. A study of the careers of Guillaume Geefs and Eugène Simonis, who executed a substantial part of these ‘national heroes’, demonstrates that discussions about sculpture and national culture in general mainly tackled iconography and the matter of ‘who’ was depicted, rather than the artist or style. Part II proves how the question of who sculpted the works and these artists’ nationality and national identity moved to the centre of the focus from the 1850 on, culminating in the disputed contributions of foreign sculptors at the Bourse of Brussels, or the lack of foreigners at the Palace of Justice. The comparison of these two cases pinpoints the presence of French sculptors in Belgium, but also the role of an artists’ nationality and the raised questions about national culture and identity, as well as the nationality of art in general. In part III the focus is back on the development of Belgian sculpture, and the importance devoted to the creation of a ‘national style’ in sculpture from the 1880s on. Sculptors such as Charles Van der Stappen, Julien Dillens or Paul Devigne were at the one hand considered representatives of a ‘renaissance of Belgian sculpture’, but at the other hand often criticised because of their affiliations with the French school and style. However, in these cases, a discrepancy between art theory and artistic reality became most prominent, while local identity and the locality of style became increasingly important. Part IV comprises the careers of Constantin Meunier and George Minne, and demonstrates how their international fame, and different local and regional identities, as well as their stylistic innovations, affected their ‘image’ as representatives for Belgian nineteenth-century sculpture, as well as the coexistence of their local, regional, national and international identities. Throughout this entire research, special attention is paid to the national ‘imaging’ of sculptors by fellow-artists and contemporary press, and the contradictions between discourse and practice of national schools. The national identity of style, medium, and iconography of sculpture created, exhibited or commissioned in Belgium are scrutinized. With questions of national identity as a red thread, this dissertation sheds a new light on the development of sculpture throughout the century, and the different criteria that supposedly constituted a ‘national sculpture’ in Belgium throughout the nineteenth century.
Keywords
Jef Lambeaux, George Minne, Julien Dillens, Charles Van der Stappen, Auguste Rodin, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, Eugène Simonis, Guillaume Geefs, public sculpture, Paris salon, Belgian salons, Brussels Academy, Antwerp Academy, Belgian sculpture school, national identity, nineteenth-century art, sculptors, sculpture, Constantin Meunier

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Citation

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Chicago
Wijnsouw, Jana. 2015. “In Search of a National (s)cul(p)ture: The Local, National and International Identity of Sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916)”. Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.
APA
Wijnsouw, J. (2015). In search of a national (s)cul(p)ture: the local, national and international identity of sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916). Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent, Belgium.
Vancouver
1.
Wijnsouw J. In search of a national (s)cul(p)ture: the local, national and international identity of sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916). [Ghent, Belgium]: Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy; 2015.
MLA
Wijnsouw, Jana. “In Search of a National (s)cul(p)ture: The Local, National and International Identity of Sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916).” 2015 : n. pag. Print.
@phdthesis{6999268,
  abstract     = {Seemingly paradoxical, nineteenth-century society and culture are characterized by both an increased internationalization of cultural and artistic practices, and a growing importance of nationality. The role of national administrations and institutions, and the impact of ideas of national culture and identity in art theory, criticism and history cannot be underestimated.
This dissertation elaborates on the social and cultural phenomenon of {\textquoteleft}national schools{\textquoteright} during the nineteenth century, via the less studied field of sculpture, and with Belgium as a case. The role, importance of and emphasis on certain aspects of {\textquoteleft}national identity{\textquoteright} evolved throughout the century, while a diverse array of criteria were indicated by commissioners, art critics, or artists, that supposedly constituted a {\textquoteleft}national sculpture{\textquoteright}. Through the study of the trajectories of Belgian sculptors abroad, as well as the presence and reception of foreign sculptors in Belgium, the role of nationality and national culture in the creation of a {\textquoteleft}Belgian sculpture school{\textquoteright} are unveiled in four chronological parts.
Part I, comprising the period between 1830 and 1850, focusses on the creation of statues of national heroes in Belgium. A study of the careers of Guillaume Geefs and Eug{\`e}ne Simonis, who executed a substantial part of these {\textquoteleft}national heroes{\textquoteright}, demonstrates that discussions about sculpture and national culture in general mainly tackled iconography and the matter of {\textquoteleft}who{\textquoteright} was depicted, rather than the artist or style.
Part II proves how the question of who sculpted the works and these artists{\textquoteright} nationality and national identity moved to the centre of the focus from the 1850 on, culminating in the disputed contributions of foreign sculptors at the Bourse of Brussels, or the lack of foreigners at the Palace of Justice. The comparison of these two cases pinpoints the presence of French sculptors in Belgium, but also the role of an artists{\textquoteright} nationality and the raised questions about national culture and identity, as well as the nationality of art in general.
In part III the focus is back on the development of Belgian sculpture, and the importance devoted to the creation of a {\textquoteleft}national style{\textquoteright} in sculpture from the 1880s on. Sculptors such as Charles Van der Stappen, Julien Dillens or Paul Devigne were at the one hand considered representatives of a {\textquoteleft}renaissance of Belgian sculpture{\textquoteright}, but at the other hand often criticised because of their affiliations with the French school and style. However, in these cases, a discrepancy between art theory and artistic reality became most prominent, while local identity and the locality of style became increasingly important.
Part IV comprises the careers of Constantin Meunier and George Minne, and demonstrates how their international fame, and different local and regional identities, as well as their stylistic innovations, affected their {\textquoteleft}image{\textquoteright} as representatives for Belgian nineteenth-century sculpture, as well as the coexistence of their local, regional, national and international identities.
Throughout this entire research, special attention is paid to the national {\textquoteleft}imaging{\textquoteright} of sculptors by fellow-artists and contemporary press, and the contradictions between discourse and practice of national schools. The national identity of style, medium, and iconography of sculpture created, exhibited or commissioned in Belgium are scrutinized. With questions of national identity as a red thread, this dissertation sheds a new light on the development of sculpture throughout the century, and the different criteria that supposedly constituted a {\textquoteleft}national sculpture{\textquoteright} in Belgium throughout the nineteenth century.},
  author       = {Wijnsouw, Jana},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {XIII, 433},
  publisher    = {Ghent University. Faculty of Arts and Philosophy},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {In search of a national (s)cul(p)ture: the local, national and international identity of sculptors in Belgium (1830-1916)},
  year         = {2015},
}