Eros and Death. Félicien Rops

December 1 – February 18, 2006
Kumu Art Museum, Great Hall


The exhibition is taking place within the framework of a cooperation agreement between the Republic of Estonia and the Wallonia-Brussels French Community and thanks to the united efforts of the several institutions (the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Embassy of the Republic of Estonia in Brussels, Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in Estonia, International Relations High Commissariat of the Wallonia-Brussels French Community, Namuri Province, Félicien Rops Museum in Namur, and the Kumu Art Museum).


The grand exposition of the works of Félicien Rops (1833-1898), the internationally renowned 19th century artist of Belgian descent, is of interest from several aspects. Through international cultural cooperation, an exhibition has arrived in Estonia that was compiled especially for the Kumu Art Museum. In addition to the Rops Museum, the owners of the works being exhibited at the show comprising 270 works, books, items, and photos include the Royal Library of Belgium, Ghent Art Museum, Mariemont Royal Museum, Wallonia Region, Charleroi Art Museum, several art galleries and tens of private collections. Thanks to their confidence, it is possible to exhibit the voluminous work of Rops, who is known as a graphic artist, book and fashion designer, painter, and drawer, in its entire versatility.


Félicien Rops is an artist who was born in Belgium, but who spent the greater part of his creative life in France. The bohemian life of Paris left a deep impression on his art. As a good friend of Baudelaire and the Goncourt brothers, he was the soul of the Parisian salon and café society, and he was drawn to the wretched dives of the metropolis. Important in Rops’s art are the so-called great topics, those that touch the foundation of human existence, which are characteristic of the time but quite rare in Estonian art—death, human sexuality, one’s relationship with the universe, piety, evil, as well as Woman as the source of an ungraspable mystical power and the one responsible for the fall from grace. By dealing with these subjects, Rops became the chronicler, as well as critic, of his era.


Ofcourse, Rops is also an unusually open-minded and erotic artist. He depicts many women and intimate relations. In this connection, he casts a very attentive and discerning look at the hypocritical sanctimony of the 19th century related to sexual life, which hid the wild life rampant at the time behind a sober façade. He is ironically intimate, clever, contemptuous of women, but also an artist with a strong social streak. Even when faced with life in the Parisian dives and its consequences, or reflecting the events of contemporary political life.


With all this, Rops was primarily a visionary, whose power of imagination knew no bounds. He was able to unite the drives of the human body and soul into fabulous symbols and visions, to unite piety and the ecstasy of love, often mocking, sometimes scorning, but by applying all his talents. The artist’s famous sayings, “I hate indifference,” and “I don’t give anyone the right to honor me”, splendidly characterize the attitude toward life of the powerful, independent and outrageous Rops.


Along with Rops’s visionary side, he relieved the tension of life and creation with superb landscape painting; he executed many book illustrations, also for the erotic works of anonymous authors. He founded an etchers’ and a canoeists’ society, consorted with many women, and designed for a Parisian fashion house. One could say that, although he was a master of the small format, he was an artist of frenzied creativity and vitality, whose greatness at the time was understood by a relatively small circle of connoisseurs and clients, but who, from today’s viewpoint, has become a symbol of his era.


At the exhibition, in addition to the artist’s work, one can also see an Estonian-subtitled film, The Mischievous Master Rops (16 min.), his graphics plates and tools, and illustrated books. A DVD introduces the graphic techniques used by Rops in his work.

A sizable catalogue is also being published.

The exhibition curator at the Félicien Rops Museum is Véronique Carpiaux, and Tiina Abel at the Kumu Art Museum.