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Art at Gaasbeek: Vanity Fair, until 10th June 2018

Putti, Lerooy, 2017

During 2018, the exhibitions at Gaasbeek Castle are dominated by the theme of “vanitas”

I recently visited and posted on Gaasbeek Castle, and mentioned I would post on the current art exhibition there, which is called “Vanity Fair”. It’s an exhibition by two Belgian artists – Félicien Rops and Thomas Lerooy – on the theme of vanitas.

A vanitas is a symbolic work of art showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. It often contrasts symbols of wealth with those of ephemerality and death. OK so these are not the lightest topics in the world, but Vanity Fair is well worth a visit. It’s different, eye-opening, and makes you think.

The Vanity Fair exhibition runs from 1 April to 10 June, 2018. Details of opening hours and admission fees are on the Gaasbeek Castle website.

Félicien Rops

Rops (1833 — 1898) was an artist known for breaking taboos and defying the moral order. His drawings often have strong erotic connotations, and in his early life he was called a “demonic artist”. He gained fame with his depictions of the world of Parisian prostitution and of human couplings. In this respect he took the opposite stance to the academic nude of the time, or the allegorical depiction of sex. He also took an interest in mythological gods and goddesses yielding to their instincts, and in medical research, where he invented a world where organs lived an autonomous existence.

Thomas Lerooy

Lerooy (born 1981) follows in Rops’ footsteps, provocatively displaying the more animal instincts of mankind. His trademarks are extreme contrasts and innuendo, our transitory nature, and the nonsense of existence. He particularly works in bronze. Like Rops, he snubs traditional Belgian art tradition.

Vanity Fair


As I said, and as you can see from the pictures, Vanity Fair is an art exhibition to make you think. Thankfully, help is provided to clarify your thoughts. There is an excellent 48-page A5 booklet provided. Each double-page spread is devoted to each room in the castle. On the left-hand page you can read about the castle itself and the permanent collection (see my post for photos of this). On the right-hand page you can read an explanation of the works of art by Rops and Leroy that you can find in that room.

The descriptions certainly helped me understand what the artists were intending with each piece. I can only admire the creativity of such artists, and how they expressed their thoughts and world views in such innovative, bold and at times shocking ways.

Let me know what you think of it in the comments below!

13 thoughts on “Art at Gaasbeek: Vanity Fair, until 10th June 2018”

  1. A fascinating exhibit about art meant to make the viewer think about the meaning of his personal life. Not stuff to decorate the walls of one’s home but to occupy one’s thoughts before acting on impulse. Thanks for the tour, Denzil.

    1. Thanks Sharon. I think it’s bold of the castle, with all its antiques, to show contemporary art. The clash is thought-provoking in itself.

  2. Very interesting art. That obelisk really stands out to me, but I can’t make out what that is on the top head. As for “where organs lived an autonomous existence”–now that sounds like an intriguing premise for a thriller!

    1. Apparently it’s a blob of whipped cream Carrie, which could suggest the best of the bunch, the tip of the iceberg, or even bird droppings on sculptures. Quite a clash, whatever your interpretation.

  3. These works are ghastly and fascinating at the same time – very thought provoking. They remind me of those works we’ve seen in some European churches adorning tombs, where the body is reduced to a skeleton. They’re meant to remind us of the fragility of life.

    1. That’s a good way of putting it Carol. Yes, some of the things you see in churches are equally repellent and attractive. Gargoyles for example.

  4. Well it seems in part like a stroll through someone else’s nightmare, not mine, thankfully, or at least, the sort of dream you experience after a late-night anchovy-and-onion pizza! Kind of a digestive bonfire of the vanities. I’ve never studied art, but in history classes, have encountered this tradition of “vanitas” and “memento mori,” and here, it’s obviously successful if it’s primarily meant to “disturb the comfortable.” Good for you, Denzil, for posting something thought-provoking, and not just the pretty stuff.

    1. Ha, strange … the guide booklet didn’t mention anything about these guys being on a diet of anchovy-onion pizza! You may have stumbled on the source of their inspiration Robert. Yes I think “disturbing the comfortable” is exactly what they had in mind.

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