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Christ aux Outrages by Henry De Groux: Fin de Siècle Religion, Art Criticism, and the Sociology of the Crowd

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The Belgian symbolist painter, Henry De Groux (1866-1930), produced in his life one masterwork, Christ aux Outrages (1888-1889), a vast painting (293-363 cm.) which both embodies his own tormented nature and that of many similarly unsettled fin de siècle Catholics in that age of Positivism, secularization, European sabre rattling, and anarchism. Following its success in the Salon Triennal in Brussels, Henry De Groux, financed by King Leopold II of the Belgians, brought his painting to Paris in 1890 where it was exhibited in the Salon des Arts Liberaux, after being rejected by the salon jury. The image of a timorous, bound, and defenseless Christ and a savagely screaming mob of women, dogs, and children repelled faint-hearted academically-minded critics concerned with religious art and moved the ardent and orthodox. While these writers of religious orientation had their own reasons for praise and blame, this research considers the connection between the painting and the dominant concern among socialists such as Gustave Le Bon in Le Psychologie des Foules (1895) and novelists such as Emile Zola in Germinal and other of his novel for "Crowd Theory." It is the fearful and irrepressible crowd attacking Christ, it is argued, that gave Christ aux Outrages its peculiar significance in fin de siècle Paris.

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