The Fine Arts section was housed in the best possible way - and in an exceptional manner - in a definitive palace built to the plans of Mr. Charles Soubre, the eminent Liège architect.
Intended to serve from now on as the Festival Hall as well as a venue for temporary exhibitions, this building constitutes the most important legacy of the late Exhibition to the City of Liège.
This Palais des Beaux-Arts, built in the Louis XVI style, occupies a clearing in the Parc de la Boverie. Surrounded by old trees, overlooking the river, which on either side of its main façades provides a luminous framework for the lawns and flowerbeds, and close to a dormant pond where its slate domes and white colonnades are mirrored, it achieves a high level of quality.
its white colonnades, it makes a most fortunate vantage point. Among the many varied aspects of the recent Walloon World's Fair, it expresses sober elegance and clear distinction.
Baron de Beeckman de Vieusart had agreed to take on - a delicate mission for which his experience and high competence obviously designated him - the functions of special commissioner of the Fine Arts section.
He had recruited a staff that included Mr Armand Rassenfosse, the eminent engraver and draughtsman, secretary of the Société pour l'encouragement des Beaux-Arts in Liège, and Mr Paul Lambotte and Mr Albert van Nieuvenhuyse, secretaries of the Royal Societies of Fine Arts in Brussels and Antwerp.
A patronage committee, chaired by the Marquis de Beauffort, President of the Royal Society of Fine Arts of Brussels, supported this section with the help of numerous competent and authorised personalities.
Two foreign governments, two republics, France and the United States of America had officially organised sections in the Fine Arts section.
Unofficially, almost all the other countries with renowned schools of art had exhibited, in separate groups, works by their nationals. Only England and Austria had unfortunately refrained from any participation of this kind, but the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria had their saloons. In addition, individual artists from countries whose aesthetic schools had no collective representation had gathered their entries in an international section. These works, necessarily very disparate, were placed among the works of Belgian artists.
While each country had prepared in advance the selection of works destined for the Liège Exhibition, the sorting of the works that made up the Belgian compartment and the international section had to be done on the spot when the rooms were set up. The task of the admission and placement jury was no easy one.
The Palais was extremely crowded. All the rooms and numerous temporary annexes that had to be enlarged were to be used for the display of works of art. In the midst of the upholsterers and decorators, among the full and empty boxes, Messrs. Baron de Beeckman, E. Carpentier, F. Courtens, J. Delvin, Al. Struys, L. Lenain,
Ch. Mertens, P. J. Dierckx, L. Frédéric, P. Mathieu, effective and substitute jurors for the painting and drawing section; Messrs. G. Devreese, V. Rousseau and Ch. Vinçotte for sculpture, J. Brunfaut and Ch. Soubre for architecture, moved forward not without difficulty and fulfilled the thorny mission with which they found themselves entrusted with, with severity and eclecticism.
The catalogue of the Belgian section listed 435 works exhibited by 304 artists.
It could have contained almost three times as many numbers if the jury had accepted all that was presented. The contingent thus selected was judged worthy of our school and of its worldwide reputation. Its harmonious behaviour and high artistic level were unanimously recognised. It was to this contingent that the majority of the awards went. In proportion to the other compartments of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, the Belgian compartment had a very impressive number of medal-winning exhibitors.
The international awards jury was composed of Albert Baertsoen, Baron de Beeckman, Bernstamm, Evariste Carpentier, Franz Courtens, Flaneau, Victor Gilsoul, Halbart, Harlamoff, Franz Hens, La Chaise, Maquet, A. Rassenfosse, Rosseels, Max Schlichting, Steelinck, J. Stewart, Alexandre Struys, Charles Van der Stappen, Alfred
Verhaeren, Isidore Verheyden, Thomas Vinçotte, effective members; Messrs P. J. Dierckx, G. Devreese, Paul Mathieu and Ch. Soubre, substitute members; Mr Paul Lambotte, secretary.
This jury awarded the Belgian section two large medals of honour. These medals, in gold, with an intrinsic value of two thousand francs, were awarded to Mr. Jan Stobbaerts, painter and to Mr. Egide Rombaux, statuary. - Nineteen first medals in gold, twenty-five second medals in silver and nineteen third medals in bronze, making a total of
medals in bronze, i.e. a total of 65 awards were distributed among the exhibitors of the section. Naturally, the entries from various personalities were, for various reasons, declared "out of competition".
With this abundance of awards, the jury confirmed the high value of the whole.
In truth, the cohesion of the Belgian works was exceptional. A common fund of robust qualities, the health of the colour, the understanding of the harmonies which were always right if not very refined, the power of the paste, the positive aspect of the achievements marked them with an undeniable stamp of origin.
In these pieces, the part of the dream, of the intellectuality even, seemed generally congruent. Our artists usually claim to be excellent workers rather than deep thinkers. As Mr. Dumont-Wilden very wisely observed in speaking of the memorable retrospective exhibition of Belgian Art, it appears that the lack of a general culture is unfortunately of the greatest importance.
of a general culture is unfortunately the rule in Belgium. Without doubt, painters and sculptors must not abuse literature, a poison that is sometimes anaemic for certain temperaments, but there is a world of difference between ignorance and the emptiness of thought of the majority.
Our School has shone in Liege, as elsewhere, previously, by its landscape artists and its statuaries. The addition of a few beautiful paintings on loan from museums, the recall of some glorious personalities who had disappeared or grown old, the efforts of some well-talented young people had given the whole a beautiful generous opulence and that freshness of clear health that so many visitors have noticed.
Undoubtedly, among the paintings there were quite a few that were not exclusively pieces of masterly execution. Several were embellished with stylistic or expressive research. Others revealed the understandable emotion felt by the artist before the powers or subtleties of nature. Others
others testified to a high intelligence of the dignity and character of certain human types.
Rare portraits showed the respectful scruples of an observer before the personality of an intensely captivating model - such as Isidore Verheyden, who was determined to fix the features of Constantin Meunier, resplendent with inner life.
And among the marbles and plasters, in the accumulation of these somewhat tight whitenesses, speckled with dark spots of some bronzes, works made with a concern for the expressive form, the followed curvature, the rhythmic balance of the masses, contrasted happily among materialities a little heavy of composition, a little empty and without scope.
a little empty and without scope...
The French Fine Arts section at the Liège Exhibition was arranged with a new and ingenious taste. The overall effect was a very happy one. Mr. Pol Neveux and Mr. Marcel Horteloup, respectively commissioner and assistant commissioner of this section, deserve the highest praise for their ingenuity and artistic sense.
The catalogue lists their various collaborators. Before paying tribute to their merits, I believe it is not indiscreet to recall that M"^'^ Pol Neveux, whose name is not officially inserted anywhere, was the main collaborator of the French curator of Fine Arts and in a way the enthusiastic and inventive soul of this successful exhibition.
of this successful exhibition. It would be ungrateful not to mention the subtle influence of this young and charming presence, always devoted, active and persuasive.
The French compartment was embellished with decorative friezes for the execution of which nine artists had lent Mr. Fol Neveux precious and disinterested assistance. The ornamental inventions of Messrs René Lalique, A. Lepère, J. Adler, Georges Picard, Emile Wéry, M "es C. Dufau and A. Delasalle were
were more admired. They brought to the overall effect of the section a sought-after sumptuousness, a harmonious cohesion.
The elite of French artists had cooperated in the representation of the School in Liege.
The most prominent names of the Institute, the Société des artistes français and the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts were among the members of the organising jury under the chairmanship of M. Dujardin-Beaumetz, Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts, and among the exhibitors.
The tribute was flattering for the Liège Exhibition. Unfortunately, the irrevocable decision not to participate in the awards and to declare the entire section "out of competition" deprived the jury of the pleasure of recognising, through deserved awards, the rare quality of the entries.
The French contingent was extremely complex and dense. It surpassed even the Belgian contingent in number. In fact, no work exceeded the modest dimensions of a home art object.
Strict regulations had forbidden large canvases and important groups.
Everything was reduced to a small scale. Watercolours, drawings, miniatures, engravings, lithographs, medals, engraved gemstones, architectural frames, and charming samples of small sculpture abounded around the paintings and statues and made a visit to this successful compartment both attractive and interminable.
The collections of the French State, and in particular the Musée du Luxembourg, had lent the organisers of the Liège Exhibition some precious works that have now become part of the heritage of the Republic.
From the Luxembourg came Les femmes se chauffant, by Albert Besnard, a prestigious and subtle piece of refined virtuosity, the vigorous Forge de Saint - Jacques, by Fernand Cormon, Le vieux lithographe, a valiant study by Carolus Duran, and this fine nocturne by Dinet, entitled after the Arab legend: Esclave d'amour et Lumière des
eyes. - The same Museum had allowed the exhibition of the amiable marble by R. Larche:
The French State also owned a remarkable work by Lobre, an eloquent interpreter of the majestic solitude of Versailles, a tight drawing by Dagnan Bouveret and works by Gabriel Ferrier, Harenx, Renouard and Prunier.
It is also thanks to the kindness of the State that the statuaries Rodin, Barrias, Dampt, Despiau, Labatut, Le Confier, Paillet, Schnegg, Verlet, Villeneuve and Tonnelier were represented by worthy consignments in the French section in Liege.
The curiosity of many visitors went less to works signed by illustrious or notorious names than to portraits of various personalities, of more or less general interest.
The features of Mounet-Sully or Suzanne Desprès, those of M. Duberry, secretary general of the Comédie française, the faces of Pol Neveux, Dampt, Joseph Reinach, Florent Willems, Albert Maignan, M"^^^ René Ménard or Chabas did not fail to interest a public that is daily fed by reading the penny-ante Parisian newspapers.
The Musée de la Ville de Liège has retained as a souvenir of this art festival, the beautiful painting by Lucien Simon: Un cirque forain en Bretagne, a deliberate and austere painting, worthy in every respect of the choice of its editors. The Royal Museums of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Brussels now own two of the decorative friezes designed by René Lalique for the large room of the French section, white fabric bands with gold brocade appliques underlined by embroidered contours of the most delicious effect.
Among the entries from Parisian painters and statuaries, the amateurs and the Tombola Commissioners were able to make many much admired choices.
The compartment reserved for works by artists from the United States was enhanced by entries of indisputable prestige.
John Sargent, Cari Marr, Julius Stewart, Julian Stary, Darmat, belong to the world's elite of transatlantic artists who, in fact, have become naturalized English, Bavarian, French, and whose production, universally tasted, has no particularly American flavor.
Cosmopolitan artists such as Gari Melchers, Miller, Bartlett or Charles Sprague Paerce traditionally belong to the Old Continent schools.
If their eclecticism combines the current trends of the French, Belgian, English, Dutch and Bavarian schools with the aesthetic culture they have collected in all the museums of Europe, their art does not smell of an overseas land, it does not assert any unexpected understanding, any ingeniously new interpretation.
It is regrettable that the organisers of the United States compartment did not find a way of adding one or two outstanding pieces by Whistler to their contingent. A glaring omission! Such paintings would have summed up the quintessence of the conquests and successes of American artists in Europe. They would have signified the clear assertion of their influence and haughty power. Mac Neil Whistler, an enigmatic and masterful figure of a great cosmopolitan artist who was never without recognition, not even denigration.
Alexander, a living portrait painter, Abbey, Chase and many others of Whistler's and Sargent's compatriots, were also missing from the series. But those represented in Liège, whose works filled three somewhat dark and severely arranged rooms of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, brilliantly synthesised the research and achievements of all.
and successes of all.
Mr. Lewis S. Ware, general curator for the United States section, was assisted in the organisation of this special department by Messrs. J. Stewart and E. A. La Chaise. An admission jury operating in Paris had hand-picked the works which were then carefully placed by these gentlemen.
The awards jury unanimously awarded one of the four grand medals of honour for the Beaux-Arts to Mr. John Sargent, painter of prestigious portraits, and one of the most marvellous technicians of contemporary painting where, however, virtuosos of dazzling brilliance are not rare.
Four first-class, four second-class and two third-class medals were then awarded to the exhibitors in this section.
The German schools could only be represented to a limited extent.
Numerous and regrettable abstentions were notable. The private initiative of the organisers, lacking the necessary means of action, had to limit itself to overcoming multiple difficulties. Mr. Alexis Riese, General Commissioner for Germany, unfortunately died after a long illness, at the very beginning of the organisation. He was replaced by Colonel Keppel. These gentlemen had to impose some sacrifices on the exhibiting artists who were not paid for the transport of the parcels. Nevertheless, in these rather rough-looking rooms, pieces of high value imposed themselves to the attention. The glorious names of Lenbach and Leibl, those great dead of the Munich school, were recalled by two characteristic pieces of their appreciated manner. Other well-known masters were well represented.
The jury awarded this section two first medals and four second medals.
With more research and effect, another private initiative committee organised the Dutch section. These gentlemen were able to bring together influential patrons and secure the support of many excellent artists.
The Committee, under the honorary presidency of the venerable Wilhelm Mesdag and the effective presidency of Professor Bart Van Hove, included the names of Messrs. Wilm Steelink, John Hulk, A. M. Gorter, H. J. Haverman, C. Q. T'Hooft, F. Jansen, W. Maris and J. Van Oort.
The important painting exhibited by Mr. G. H. Breitner, Winter in Amsterdam, was judged by the jury to be worthy of the highest award.
Mr. Breitner, like Messrs. Rombaux, Sargent and Stobbaert, was awarded a large medal of honour. Other distinctions, namely: four first class medals, four second class medals, three third class medals, were conferred on this section which counted 122 works presented by 103 exhibitors.
The Dutch compartment, hung with blue-green cloths and maintained in similar tones, with two painting saloons and a large selection of works in black and white, had a somewhat cold and disconcerting appearance, so different from the purple halls of Belgium and the bright and ornate halls of France, its two immediate neighbours.
The Russian section occupied three rooms in the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Organised by Messrs de Bilbassoff, Nikiphovoff and Protopopoff, it attracted attention by the real merit of its statuary and by the curiously documentary set of works brought back from Manchuria by Mr Kravtchenko, recalling sites and episodes of the Russian-Japanese war.
the Russo-Japanese war.
Because of its extreme multiplicity, this consignment was excluded from the competition and the jury awarded the Russian section one first medal, four second medals and four third medals.
The Russian sculptors, generally of French education and tradition, interested the artistic public by their technical finesse and their shuddering morbidity; but the curiosity of the majority of visitors was attached to the scenes of the Russo-Japanese war, which were so captivatingly topical, and they were astonished by the human types, the landscapes, the urban aspects, and the foreign skies, which were so disconcerting and so far removed from the opinion that had been formed beforehand.
The Italian artists had not responded in large numbers to the invitations sent by Messrs Uttini and Sortini. Twenty-three painters and fifteen sculptors made up the entire Italian contingent, although some very serious entries were noted.
The participation of Mr. Previati seemed very interesting. Mr. Sortini was the only one to provide the series of statuary works. It allowed the curious to form an opinion on his flexible and varied talent.
In the Italian section, the jury awarded a first class medal, a second class medal and a third class medal.
The Spanish section was not much more important. The efforts of a patronage commission and a brilliantly composed admission commission, those of M. Guerette-Douxchamps and M. Paul Douxchamps, general commissioner and deputy commissioner, only resulted in the collection of 22 works, among which the jury distinguished works worthy of two second class medals and one third class medal.
The Bulgarian section was prepared and arranged by Messrs Vernazza, Vesin, Mitoff and Ratcheff. It was, all things considered, eminently interesting and revealing of an art movement still completely unknown in Belgium.
Without doubt, Bulgarian painters owe a lot to Viennese aesthetic education and also keep their eyes fixed on Paris where the evolution of painting preoccupies all the artists in the world. I suppose that these Bulgarian rooms in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège could represent quite well what a Fine Arts Salon in Prague or Pesth could be.
An exotic flavour, not only Germanic or Slavic, but already oriental, is mixed with familiar cosmopolitan tendencies. The technical knowledge already appears experienced and skilful - very skilful -, the vision a little outrageous, the intellectuality insufficient.
The jury recognized the talent of three Bulgarian exhibitors by awarding them a second class medal and two third class medals.
Finally, the few exhibitors who came alone from countries not represented were grouped together in a somewhat disparate international section. Their works had to be mixed with those of the Belgian painters so that they could be placed without any discordance caused by incompatible neighbours. The tendencies, the traditions, the education, the interpretation, the colourist attitude, even the very different proportions of these few works made their juxtaposition truly incoherent.
The refined portrait of M^e de Saint-Marceaux, by William Ablett, and the delicate panel entitled Tea, by Franz Melchers, so finely pearled in a blue and grey harmony, were particularly successful.
In total, the Palace of Fine Arts housed 1706 works of art. It was one of the most indisputable attractions of the Exhibition. Together with the Palais de l'Art Ancien, which was close by - and which contained such beautifully displayed treasures - it was the goal of many aesthetic pilgrimages and kept numerous series of charmed visitors in the Parc de la Boverie.
Many transactions were concluded there. The French government and various Belgian museums made acquisitions there. Foreign amateurs and even American dealers chose important works with discernment.
Finally, the Commission of the General Tombola of the Exhibition on the one hand, and the Committee of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists in Liege on the other, acquired a very large number of works. The total sales exceeded two hundred and fifty thousand francs, a windfall from which many artists benefited.
In this way, as well as through the distribution of prizes voted by the jury, practical and judicious encouragement was given to the development of fine arts in general.
The section received one hundred and seventy-nine thousand and twenty paid admissions, not counting those of the holders of circulation and subscription cards, which brought the actual number of visits to a much higher total. Nearly ten thousand catalogues were sold.
With this combination and this success, the City of Liège has definitely become one of Belgium's great art cities.
It seems only fitting that in the future it should take its regular turn, like Antwerp or Ghent, in organising these large international periodic exhibitions which maintain a taste for the fine arts in the major provincial centres and contribute powerfully to the general prosperity of artists.
Right next to the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a temporary aedicule housed works by the Liège statuary Léon Mignon. Organised by Mr. Joë Hogge-Fort, president of the OEuvre des Artistes, this Léon Mignon exhibition was an apotheosis of the deceased master. Composed solely of small works - busts and statuettes
- lined up on monotonous plinths, the selection formed by the OEuvre des Artistes did not show the models of Mignon's main creations, his large decorative groups from the Liège terraces, nor the bas-reliefs representing the twelve labours of Hercules, set in the banisters of the grand staircase of the Musée moderne in Brussels. Nor are there any of those lively and picturesque
Nor are there any of the lively and picturesque studies of animals whose bronze proofs have been popularised by the trade. But among the busts and military figures arranged in onion rows along the walls of the small annex of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, the skilful and lively pieces were not rare: physiognomic portraits, animated with expression and character, modelled with a nervous thumb, supple and easy to work with, skilfully positioned figures, alert and brilliant improvisations.
A career darkened by illness and the lamentable miseries of the last years, but a career fertile with beautiful, healthy and hard works, the appearance of Léon Mignon in the Belgian school of statuary of the 19th century was not negligible and his memory will not perish. Mr. Hogge-Fort and the OEuvre des Artistes have done well to award him this well-deserved commemorative tribute in Liège, his homeland, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Liège 1905