You are here: Home / Exhibitions / Current exhibitions / EXPO BIS - ELIE BORGRAVE. Balance of Opposites

EXPO BIS - ELIE BORGRAVE. Balance of Opposites

Elie Borgrave. The Balance of Opposites

Elie Borgrave. Balance of Opposites is the first retrospective devoted to this artist, whose painting is entirely dedicated to abstraction. Around forty paintings and drawings dating from the 1940s to the 1990s make it possible to discover a singular and an unknown work in the history of abstraction after 1945. Archived documents and old photographs show the man behind the artist. These unpublished documents also allow the visitor to enter the intimacy of the workshop. The exhibition follows the chronology of the painter's life led by Borgrave (1905-1992).

Brussels Period (1946-1948) : abstraction inspired by Cubism

It all began in Brussels in 1946 when Borgrave exhibited his first paintings at the Galerie Louis Manteau. This gallery had served as a launching pad for young artists practicing abstraction, such as Mig Quinet. Although pictorially close to the Young Belgian Painters, he maintained a distance from his counterparts. In 1948, he left for the United States with the conviction that the future of modern art will take place on American soil.

American period (1948-1955) : a European approach to the abstract painting

Arriving in the United States in 1948, the artist participated in various collective events until January 1955 when he held his first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York. It was here that artists such as Rauschenberg, Pollock, Twombly and many others, exhibited their latest paintings. However, unlike the latter, Borgrave remained attached to a European tradition in his conception of abstract art. His sense of composition was rooted in Picasso's Cubism. His taste for color revealed an historic foundation in Fauvism. Like Kandinsky, Borgrave saw a poetic expansion of the world in painting.

Until then in my work, the search for perfection has often chosen either expression or emotion. In recent years, this has led to the discovery of cross-purposes in the work. The philosophical conclusions remain to be drawn.

Italy (1955-1958) : subject matter

In 1955, Borgrave returned to Europe. He lived in Italy, near Naples. The international aesthetic climate turned towards the celebration of pictorial matter. In the early 1960s, many painters were interested in the relationship between the form given by the artist and the raw material. For Belgian painters, the material remained pigmented. It is here that we must situate the contribution of Borgrave. As in the case of Serge Vandercam, Bram Bogart, Antoine Mortier, Mig Quinet and many others, Borgrave was viscerally attached to painting, whilst in France (Dubuffet), Italy (Burri) and Spain (Tapiès) the material was nourished by heterogeneous materials whose triviality traces the contours of a counterculture culminating in the events of May 1968. Borgrave did not follow this path that would lead outside of painting. His pictorial approach to materialism was based on mastery of the gesture and on the – european – principle of composition. Borgrave put in place a recurring pattern : producing a centrifugal movement by giving the viewer the impression that forms diverge from a central core to the boundaries of the painting.

The line is no longer, as in classical geometry, the appearance of a being contained in a vacuum.  It is, as in moderate geometries, restriction, segregation and modulation of spatiality.

Dutch Period (from 1962) : the sign, between kinetic art and minimalism

Borgrave settled near Paris from 1958 to 1962, then returned to Brussels before settling permanently in the Dutch village of Zuidzande, not far from Knokke-le-Zoute. The early 1960s was a transitional phase. On a personal level, the artist's life had a new beginning. His career restarted in 1963 when the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels devoted a first exhibition to him. Several Belgian and Dutch galleries followed the movement. Pictorially, he abandoned the subject matter. What he was looking for from now on was the staging of a sign. The motif of the circle first interested Borgrave. In this series of paintings, each bore the imprint of the gesture deployed to trace the circle : its history is that of its manufacture. The question of duration is thus invoked in the conception of the painting. Significantly, the artist eradicated the effects of matter and, like Paul Klee, modified his format by favoring a horizontal support more adapted to the unfolding of time. This question of time then led Borgrave to produce kinetic effects by staging vertical bands, evoking the research conducted at the same time by Walter Leblanc. But where the latter explored new means of expression, Borgrave remained attached to painting. In the 1970s, the artist multiplied paintings composed of two geometric interlocking signs to give the viewer the impression of a visual balance based on the complementary nature of opposites. His interest in Oriental thought formed the basis of his paintings, evoking the fullness of Zen spirituality through pictorial means.

Order, balance, harmony : symbols of peace. This is what I wanted to express in a stripped-down visual language that may be related to some form of Buddhism.



1905  Elie de Borchgrave d’Altena is born in Brussels.
1938  After discovering cubism in an exhibition, Borgrave dedicates himself solely to painting.
Demobilized during the Second World War, he lives in the United Kingdom and resumes painting in 1942.
1946  First participation in an exhibition held at the Galerie Louis Manteau in Brussels.
1948  Borgrave leaves for the United States. He settles in the port of Stonington, 150 kilometers from New York. He participates in several group exhibitions.
1955  Borgrave’s first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York. This is also the year he returns to Europe. He settles in Naples and exhibits in Rome, especially at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, where he exhibits matter paintings.
1963  After living in Paris from 1958 to 1962, Borgrave settles in Zuidzande, near Knokke-le-Zoute. The Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels devotes him an exhibition which revives his career. He devotes his painting to the notion of symbols, notably the circle and the cross.
1969  Borgrave exhibits once more at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, then at the Dhondt-Dhaenens museum. His pictorial approach to symbols takes a kinetic orientation. In other paintings, Borgrave portrays two interlinking signs to create a visual balance of opposites.
1989  Borgrave returns to Brussels. He dies in 1992.



Denis Laoureux is curator of the exhibition and professor of Art History at the ULB, in charge of courses related to modern and contemporary art.


In parallel to the exhibition

Elie Borgrave is the first publication devoted to this artist whose painting is entirely dedicated to abstraction. Nearly 150 paintings and drawings made between the years 1940 and 1990 make it possible to re/discover work that draws its sources from the dynamics of contrasts. It explores the chaos of lines and the serenity of fields of color, the diversity of the palette and the aspiration for monochrome as well as the effects of rhythm and the suspension of time. The book also presents documents that retrace a career that began in 1946 in Brussels and continued on to the United States. In New York, Borgrave was spotted by the Stable Gallery, where he exhibited abstract paintings in 1955. In 1962, the artist settled in Belgium and pursued an exploration of the language of abstract painting which led him to evoke, by pictorial means, the fullness of Zen spirituality. A book for lovers of abstract art in search of new discoveries.

Denis Lamoureux and Anthony Spiegeler
Elie Borgrave
Snoeck Editions
Soft cover
248 x 280 mm
224 pages, 180 color illustrations
ISBN : 978-94-6161-380-6


Free opening: Wednesday June 14, 6:30 PM > 9:00 PM.
Parking Tulip & shuttle free during the opening. Parking Flagey accessible (fee required).

Document Actions