(Verviers de Barthélémy 1865 - 1966 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre)
Allegory of Victory
Signed lower right: EMILE FABRY
Oil on canvas
30 7/8 x 59 1/2 inches (78 x 151 cm)
Private collection, Belgium.
J. Guisset, Emile Fabry: 1865-1966, 2005, illustrated p. 50, no. 55.
In a burst of color and swirling light, the stoic and androgynous figure of Victory stretches her arms towards a battle helmet filled with flowers. The armor emits European flags like rays of sunshine, from which a spirit emerges as if finally released from a body and into the heavens. In this painting Emile Fabry pays homage to the soldiers at the Battle of Verdun, fought between the French and German armies over the course of more than 300 days. This hieratic figure commemorates the longest and most fatal battle of World War I, acknowledging the many lives lost in the pursuit of peace.
In order to avoid serving active duty in the Belgian army himself, Fabry enrolled in the Academy of Fine Art Brussels in 1883 to pursue a career in painting. From a young age he had admired the work of neo-classical painter François-Joseph Navez (1787-1869) and went on to study under the orientalist painter Jean-François Portaels (1818-1895) at the Royal Academy. After years of drawing and painting from nature, Fabry’s style began to shift as he exhibited works with Symbolist artists, for example the exhibition Pour l’Art in 1892. He went on to participate in Josêphin Péladan’s Salon de la Rose + Croix (R+C) in Paris in 1893 and 1895, notably alongside fellow Belgians Jean Delville (1867-1953) and Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921).
Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) was an eccentric, charismatic Symbolist art critic and author who charged artists with the achievement of beauty through mysticism. Enamored with Theosophy and syncretism, Péladan took on the role of grand master, referring to himself as “Sâr,” which translates from ancient texts to “leader.” He championed the work of artists, his “disciples,” who sought to create numinous, idealized images and eschewed the ordinary and traditional. The Belgians in particular were captivated by Péladan’s musings on the androgyne, a mythic figure that embodies the two sexes, reunited since having been split by original sin. In the current painting, Fabry presents Victory as this idealized figure, spiritually pure in her androgyny. The Salon R+C sought to create a new religion of art, all the while playing an invaluable role in the exposure of French, Belgian and Swiss Symbolists, including Emile Fabry.
After participating in the Salon R+C, Fabry continued to rise to prominence and joined the faculty at the Academy of Fine Art Brussels in 1901. When the war broke out he took refuge in England, focusing almost entirely on the subject matter of war and peace between 1914 and 1918. Though preoccupied with the violent political state of Europe, Fabry also studied the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and spent time with Jean Delville in London before returning home. Fabry likely painted The Allegory of Victory around 1919 when he had recently resumed teaching at the Academy of Fine Art Brussels after the war.