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Émile Verhaeren: Essays on the Northern Renaissance

Rembrandt, Rubens, Grünewald and Others- Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Albert Alhadeff


Edited By Albert Alhadeff

Émile Verhaeren (1855–1916), art critic, poet and homme de lettres, was a man whose vision transcended his native Belgium. With close ties to Mallarmé in France and Rilke in Germany, Verhaeren, a peripatetic student of the arts, readily traveled to Paris, Berlin, Cassel, Vienna and Amsterdam. From the mid-1880s until his death in 1916, his many trips abroad resulted in a raft of essays and short monographs on the arts of the Northern Renaissance. Yet, despite the insights, scholarship and markedly precise and revealing descriptions of these studies, they have long been neglected in art historical circles, overshadowed, perhaps, by Verhaeren’s own poetic outpourings and his numerous essays on contemporary art.
In this book, Albert Alhadeff translates, edits, annotates and contextualizes these often brilliant and always revealing studies on artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Memling, Bruegel and Grünewald, masters from the North who worked mostly in Flanders, Holland and Germany in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Alhadeff reveals, Verhaeren’s studies of the masters of old in Germany, Flanders and the newly born Dutch Republic are as much about Verhaeren the man as they are about the subjects of his inquiries.


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Introduction 1


ÉmIle VerhAeren (1855–1916), fin de siècle poet, critic and homme de lettres, was a tireless advocate of all that was new in the arts at a time when Belgium rivaled Paris as a centre of the avant garde.1 Attentive and ever curious, Verhaeren was constantly appraising, assessing, evaluating artists by the hundreds, whether in Paris or Brussels, Amsterdam or London, Cassel, Munich or Vienna. Paul Aron, an eminent scholar of the 1890s of Belgium, published in 1997 a two-volume anthology of Verhaeren’s writings on art, salon reviews and critiques that runs for more than a thousand pages.2 As collected by Aron, Verhaeren’s earliest pub- lications date from 1881—only his tragic and untimely death in 1916 foreclosed his voluminous output. From the vast outreach of his criticism—and his reviews are replete with aperçus on Monet, Rodin, Ensor, Meunier, Seurat, Moreau, Kh- nopff, the Symbolists and les decadents alike—the present anthology selects and groups those essays in which the poet explores Van Eyck, Memling and the early Netherlandish painters and the Northern Baroque, writings that have not been sufficiently scrutinized by the art historical community, although they are amongst his most powerful and revelatory essays. Focusing on Flemish, Dutch and German art of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, Verhaeren’s impassioned studies on les primitifs are in their rich apperceptions amongst the most instructive of the period. Yet, these essays, expressive of Verhaeren’s enduring interests in the masters of the Early Modern period, have been waylaid...

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