Interior spaces in Belgian art and architecture (1880-1914)
: Domesticity, materiality and intimacy

  • Apolline Malevez

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation reveals the intertwined histories of interior spaces in art and architecture in Belgium between 1880 and 1914. Bringing together work in art history, the history of architecture and cultural history, as well as perspectives from French studies, material culture and gender studies, it aims to capture the multivalence of the domestic interior to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Belgian artistic culture: as a site of creation, identity performance and power relationships, a conservative and/or subversive visual trope and a conceptual frame which attempts to regulate human relationships. To chart the interior’s multi-dimensional significance in this specific context, I ask the following related questions: how was the domestic sphere framed and how did artists react to this framing? How did artists engage with their own domestic interiors? How did the redefinition of interior spaces in architecture find an echo in paintings, and vice-versa? By investigating the work of Louise De Hem, James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff, Georges Le Brun, Henry van de Velde, Théo Van Rysselberghe and Rik Wouters, I show how it mirrored the wider fascination with the interior in ways which reinforced or subverted the trope of the domestic interior as a refuge, its increasing commodification and its evolving gender and class dynamics. This thesis contributes to the emerging field of interior studies. With a view to uncovering relationships between interior spaces and representations of interiors, I link the visual and the material, shedding light on the meanings of specific artworks and broader cultural changes in late-nineteenth-century Belgium. By bringing together house plans, paintings, photographs and texts, a new picture of the interior emerges, which embraces its cultural contradictions as well as its artistic and aesthetic potentialities.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2027
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsH2020-Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND Programme & Northern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorClaire Moran (Supervisor) & Margaret Topping (Supervisor)


  • Interior
  • art
  • architecture
  • Belgium
  • nineteenth century
  • domesticity
  • materiality
  • intimacy
  • gender
  • interior studies
  • Fernand Khnopff
  • James Ensor
  • Louise De Hem
  • Rik Wouters
  • Henry van de Velde
  • Théo Van Rysselberghe
  • Georges Le Brun

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