Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ferdinand Schirren and Blavatsky


An exhibition on the Belgian painter and sculptor Ferdinand Schirren (1872-1944) is on view at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels until March 2012. The catalogue for the exhibition states that “Schirren, whose work is well represented in the Royal Museums’ holdings, is considered to be the first Belgian Fauve.”

His major work, completed early in his career, is a head of Helena P. Blavatsky, a crucial figure in the Theosophical movement. This astonishingly expressive portrait, acquired in 2007, is unique in Schirren’s multi-faceted sculptural output, and visitors will be able to discover it during the show. The Blavatsky bust is in a monumental vein, and could be understood as an interpretation that incorporates aspects of the fin-de-si├Ęcle Theosophical movement. However, Schirren’s abrupt shift to painting and drawing in 1904 introduces us to an early 20th century artist who gave pride of place to colour, which he used to render forms. By 1906, working in the quiet of the Brabant countryside, he succeeded in creating work reminiscent of the 1905 watercolours by Matisse, Manguin and Camoin.


Ferdinand Schirren’s  Portrait of Madame Blavatsky, 1898

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