'Shadows and Silence Under Glass': On the British Lineage of Fernand Khnopff, Henri Le Sidaner and Frank Brangwyn's fin-de-siècle depictions of Bruges

Stevens, Jonathan (2021). 'Shadows and Silence Under Glass': On the British Lineage of Fernand Khnopff, Henri Le Sidaner and Frank Brangwyn's fin-de-siècle depictions of Bruges. University of Birmingham. M.Res.

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The thesis proceeds from two observations. The first is that, at the end of the nineteenth century, three artists Fernand Khnopff, Henri Le Sidaner and Frank Brangwyn - who were from disparate backgrounds and different artistic traditions - all depicted Bruges using a strikingly similar aesthetic. The second is that, in the first instance, this aesthetic derives from Belgian Symbolist conceptions of Bruges; to the extent that main motifs adopted and even some of the artistic methods used were effectively proposed by the writer Georges Rodenbach in his extensive writings on Bruges (as eloquently encapsulated by the phrase, ‘shadows and silence under glass’ from his novel, Le Carillonneur).

The argument proposed in the thesis is that Khnopff, Le Sidaner and Brangwyn’s images of Bruges, although Symbolist in character, owe much to earlier British ideas of Bruges. And, furthermore, the means they utilised to realise their images were informed by the practices of certain British artists and art photographers. In consequence, the Bruges works of the three artists can be said to have – at least in part - a British lineage.

The thesis traces, elucidates, and contextualises this lineage. It describes successive encounters with Bruges by British poets, writers, architects and scholars and it examines how the city came to be viewed by them an as an exemplary place. It looks at the reception of these ideas in Bruges and it examines how they influenced Symbolist conceptions of the city - as expressed in Rodenbach’s writings and as embodied in the Bruges works of Khnopff, Le Sidaner and Brangwyn. The thesis further considers how the distinctive aesthetic used by the artists in these works was informed by the work of Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler and it uncovers the previously unremarked influence of British Pictorialist photography, especially on the work Khnopff.

The thesis demonstrates how Khnopff, Le Sidaner and Brangwyn’s twilight images of Bruges were the product of a series of extended, varied and shifting cultural exchanges throughout the nineteenth century in which the British played a prominent part. And it places their works within a wider discourse, in which Bruges was construed as an antidote or an alternative to the dislocation and disruption associated with rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Bruges as it was imagined at the end of the nineteenth century has been proposed as an ‘anti-Paris’ but, according to the thesis, it might equally be characterised as an ‘anti-London’ or an ‘anti-Manchester’.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Res.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Res.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Other Funders: Self funded
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/12101


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