In 1936, in a monograph published by the Cercle Royal Artistique in Antwerp, Arnold Goffin wrote: “The name and the work of this master have long been cherished by connoisseurs. But he is far from attaining, in Belgium at least, the fame that is legitimately his.” Seventy years on, the situation has not substantially changed, either in Belgium or elsewhere. Who was William Degouve de Nuncques (1867-1935), this artist of the mysterious, of subtlety and symbolism? Arnold Goffin goes on to say: “That which we uncover in Degouve’s work is less a love of mystery than a love of life and nature; it should be understood in the spirit of religion, in that spirit of admiration that leads us to venerate creation and, in a certain sense, to ally ourselves with it in all its forms, whether arising from spirit or matter, whether it is an instinctive reaction arising from a predetermined impulse, or a rational response that halts, stunned, in the face of the unknowable&.”
Those who appreciate nineteenth-century art and symbolism know Degouve de Nuncques from having encountered his mysterious and darkly attractive paintings in numerous exhibitions. But no large-scale retrospective has brought together, for the general public, the work of this crucial Belgian symbolist painter.