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Jean Coquelet was born in Brussels on January 3rd, 1928. He was curator of the Museum of Ixelles from 1957 to 1988 and affiliate professor at the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) from 1962 till 1977.

Jean Coquelet wrote one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of the Museum of Ixelles. He has made it possible to firmly anchor the museum in modernity and propel it among the must-see museums in the national cultural scene.

As an art historian with a keen eye, he brought major works from the history of Belgian and international art into the Museum of Ixelles collection (The Happy Donor by Magritte in 1966, Max Janlet’s legacy in 1977…) and organised numerous large-scale exhibitions at the forefront of the currents of his time, rehabilitating artists then still underestimated such as René Magritte (1959), Léon Spilliaert (1961), Je-Nous (1975), Victor Servranckx (1965), Oscar Jespers (1966), Paul Delvaux (1967), Félicien Rops (1969), Toulouse Lautrec (1973), The Maeght Foundation (1975), The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (1977), The Spitzner Museum (1975) and Alfons Mucha (1984).

He died in Brussels on October 8, 2015.

Artistic destiny is nowhere more exceptional than that of Jean Coquelet, a Brusselsian who was born in 1928 and died in 2015. His photographic work, now well known, but long held under a bushel, is now shown at the Museum of Ixelles, whereas his main professional function was the curator of the museum, from 1957 to 1988, which he assured in Brussels (then without a museum of contemporary art… as today), an incomparable fame by the exhibitions of contemporary art he organized there. As an art historian by attraction (he obtained a bachelor's degree in this discipline at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in 1953), Jean Coquelet first studied sculpture at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (he seems to have destroyed his first attempts), before becoming self-taught in photography, as was often at the time for this discipline. The rather rare artist-curator conjunction was still in the hands of two art historians among his contemporaries and friends : Ignace Vandevivere who, while devoting himself to sculpture, taught history of art at the Louvain-la-Neuve university and created his museum there, as well as Jan Hoet, a sculptor in his youth, and a leading creator of the most innovative art, who presided over the destinies of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent.

In 1989, the day after his abdication as a curator, after his first exhibition in a gallery in Como six years earlier, Nicole d'Huart, who succeeded him as curator, organized an exhibition of photographs by Jean Coquelet at the Museum of Ixelles. In the catalogue published for the occasion was a long and very interesting letter addressed to Jean Coquelet by one of his sculptor friends, the eminent Italian artist Gio Pomodoro. Observing this astonishing feeling of presence-absence of the feminine nude already emerging from Jean Coquelet’s photographs, Pomodoro understood at once the metaphorical play that they aroused. Thus, he declared : These images do not belong to the current mass culture nor to the flow of the nude market. The Italian sculptor went on : As your fellow countryman Magritte taught, these are not pictures of nudes, however absurd it may seem. Beyond the sensual seduction in the face of female anatomy, which undoubtedly motivated inspiration, the artist-sculptor-photographer's priority was undoubtedly the unconscious desire to invent formal analogies that come to the fore, and sometimes of abstract sculptures in encrusted enamel (the subject of his 1953 Bachelor's Degree in History of Art was The Greek sculptors’ technique of the 5th century BC).

While retaining some sensual attraction (I undress the Woman : a wonderful program that I deliver through immodestly immodest images, confessed the artist during his Gymnogynies exhibition – undressing feminine – in Milan and Ferrara in 1993), the main originality of Jean Coquelet the photographer, is to have invented, through anatomical arrangements and the choice of close-ups adopted, things that ontologically surpass the traditional feminine nude. Thus, a gluteal contour would readily suggest a dune in the desert, a pectoral fragment would refer to a lunar landscape, a frontal junction of two legs would appear like the columns of a Greek temple and a knee folded under a belly reminds one of the sculptures of Brancusi or Moore. In short, the metaphorical power that inhabits the spirit of Jean Coquelet makes his feminine nudes moving calligraphies and pure classical architectures.

From metaphor to myth, there is only one step. Pomodoro suggested it when he wrote to a friend : To me, these images have appeared to me rather like the brilliance of a lost, misguided world which is that of the myth ? In the same year, the critic Jacques Meuris wrote : Apart from any esoteric camouflage and any obvious eroticism, Coquelet plays with dual emotions, those that naturally emanate from naked bodies and those that arise from the shaping that the photograph suggests. In the 1990s, on the occasion of Jean Coquelet’s photographic exhibitions in Italy (Sesto Fiorentino, Milan, Ferrara) where he often stayed, and in Belgium (Verviers, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels), other commentators emphasized his talents. Notably was Karin Adler, who finished the preface for the Antwerp exhibition in 1997 with this humorous statement : Coquelet appropriated the body of the woman and made it his kingdom, his very religion. It is certain that if he believed in it, God, for him, would have the features of a woman…

Serge Goyens de Heusch


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

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