Last weekend, and the previous one, I visited a fascinating exhibition here in Belgium called Middle Gate, which brought together work by professional and outsider artists, and showed them in a conventional gallery, a church, a museum and the art department of a psychiatric treatment centre, to consider art-as-art, myth and psychiatry. It was beautiful, perplexing and disturbing, and I wish I could return this weekend as there was so much to look at and think about and so little time. I’m not going to write a review of it here because it’s closed, but if you are interested you can read more about it in English here.
(‘Apocalypse du ballet’, from here)
The exhibition included work by Cindy Sherman, Paul Klee, René Magritte, Odilon Redon and a lot of contemporary artists from Belgium and abroad whose names I didn’t know. But the greatest pleasure for me was my discovery of J.J. Grandville, a nineteenth-century French artist. Born in Nancy in 1803, Grandville moved to Paris at the age of twenty-one and began work as a lithographer. His private life was appallingly sad. None of his four sons lived longer than a few years, and his first wife died of peritonitis. He died at the age of forty-four, a couple of months after his last child. Grandville’s caricatures, often featuring animal-headed people, were enormously popular until 1835, when the government cracked down on caricatures and re-introduced prior censorship. Grandville then turned to book illustration. He supplied work for editions of Gulliver’s Travels, Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe, as well as issuing books of lithographs. It was the exquisite, delicate drawings from one of these books, Un autre monde (1844), which caught my eye at the exhibition and which I’ve used to decorate this post.
(‘Le Louvre des marionnettes’, pen-and-ink drawing, Collection Ronny et Jessy Van de Velde, from here)
Talking flowers, angry vegetables, tightrope-walking fleas, hybrid animals, eccentric viewpoints... Grandville has been called a proto-Surrealist, and I think you can see why. Max Ernst, André Breton and Georges Bataille were inspired by Un Autre Monde, it’s impossible not to feel that Lewis Carroll and perhaps John Tenniel too had either seen the book or drunk the same water as Grandville.His pictures are fanciful, witty, grotesque, fevered. You can see all the illustrations from Un autre monde here. Go and look!
(‘Mlle Tender et M. Tunnel, concert of steam cornet and soprano’, from here)
(‘The wheel of fashion’, from here)
(‘A young ewe leads the dancing with an ageing panther’, from here)