© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Delville, the leading exponent of the “idealist” strain of Belgian symbolist painting, was a mystic strongly influenced by Neoplatonism. He believed that visible reality was only a symbol of the invisible. As a charter member of the Theosophical Society that formed in Brussels in the early 1890s, he was interested in the occult, spurred by a desire to inspire the soul to redeem its divine nature. While this delicately traced portrait of a member of his family—signed and dated 1899—is characteristic of his oeuvre in terms of its monochrome palette and emphasis on line, it is less obviously imbued with theosophical associations than was most of his work at this time. Yet the effect he achieved through the use of blue-toned pencil reveals the influence of speculative writings on color theory from followers of theosophy. A celestial hue, blue was associated with spirituality and regarded as a symbol of profundity.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2009.84
People
Jean Delville, Belgian (Leuven, Belgium 1867 - 1953 Brussels)
Title
Portrait of Adeline Lesseine
Classification
Drawings
Work Type
drawing
Date
1899
Culture
Belgian
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Colored pencil and graphite on white wove paper
Dimensions
29.3 x 23 cm (11 9/16 x 9 1/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l., blue pencil: JEAN DElVillE / 1899
Provenance
The sitter's family; [art market, Belgium] sold; to Mr. and Mrs. Jean Noel, Liège; to [Galerie Monique Martel, Brussels] sold; to Harvard Art Museum, 2009
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Marian H. Phinney Fund, Paul J. Sachs Memorial Fund, and William C. Heilman Fund
Accession Year
2009
Object Number
2009.84
Division
Modern and Contemporary Art
Contact
am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Commentary
The sitter has been identified as the artist's sister-in-law Aline Lesseine.
Publication History

Carey Dunne, Flowers of Evil and the Macabre Literary Imagination of Symbolism, Hyperalleric (July 4, 2016), [e-journal], http://hyperallergic.com/305877/flowers-of-evil-and-the-macabre-literary-imagination-of-symbolism/, accessed January 9, 2017

Exhibition History

Flowers of Evil: Symbolist Drawings, 1870–1910, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu