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JEAN DELVILLE, 1867 – 1953

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JEAN DELVILLE, 1867 – 1953

Size 130 x 100 cm; 120 x 91 cm (window)
Material Black and blue chalk on paper
Origin Belgium

Moral Law - circa 1911- 
Preparatory drawing for the decoration of the Court of Assizes at the Palais de Justice in Brussels - 

Signed and titled lower right - 

Jean Delville, one of the leading figures of the Symbolist art movement in Europe, was not only painter but also poet, aesthete, and philosopher. Relying on a sound academic background, and winner of the Prix de Rome in 1895, he was a teacher at the Glasgow School of Arts from 1900 till 1907, and later professor at the Brussels Academy. As a great admirer of Josephin Péladan, Delville was probably the most prominent member of the Rose+Croix movement in Belgium. In 1896, he founded the "Salon de l’Art idéaliste", bringing together painters sporting the cult of Beauty, amongst whom Albert Ciamberlani, Emile Fabry and Constant Montald. These artists were often called upon for decorating public spaces and buildings in which they could express moral virtues through allegories where Beauty and the notion of the Ideal took a central place.

Amongst one of these monumental public commissions by the Belgian Government was the decoration of the Court of Assizes (Cour d’Assises) at the Palais de Justice in Brussels. Jean Delville’s design was officially accepted in 1907 but it took the artist no less than seven years to create an ensemble of five compositions, each depicting allegories of Justice throughout the ages. The central panel alone was 4,50 meters high by 11 meters wide. The four other panels each measured 4,60 by 3,20 meters. On 3 September 1944, the retreating German troops set fire to the Palais de Justice. The monumental copper cupola collapsed from the heat and Delville’s murals perished in this fire as well. After the war, the smaller but surprisingly elaborate oil sketches were installed in the new Court of Assizes where they can still be seen today.

The drawing presented here is one of the five large scale preparatory drawings for the depiction of Justice during biblical times: an angel of vengeance swoops down, sword in hand, ready to intervene between the enemy brothers at each other’s throats.

Family of the artist

Judith Ogonovszky-Steffens, Un Idéal de mur, in Splendeurs de l'Idéal. Rops, Khnopff, Delville et leur temps [exhibition catalog], Liège, 1996, p.190 (ill., titled "La Justice Ancienne")

1988, Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurter Kunstverein. Steinernes Haus am Römerberg, Pastelle und Zeichnungen des Belgischen Symbolismus, cat.32 (ill.)
2014, Namur, Musée Félicien Rops, Jean Delville. Maître de l’Idéal, p.110 (ill.)