The rediscovery of the work of Henry de Groux is indicative of the renewed interest in the Symbolist movement. Forgotten after having a major impact on his contemporaries, de Groux’s complex art transports us into a vividly coloured, phantasmagorical world of dreams. The unstable nature of his capricious personality and his strange, mystical notions, stemming from both his genius and his idiosyncrasies, made him a painter of the imagination and movement, whose art idealized introspection and the irrational. The very large pastel Saint Michael the Archangel is a wonderful example of this wild character’s oeuvre.
Leader of the heavenly armies and, incidentally, the patron saint of Brussels, Michael is often associated with the archangels Raphael and Gabriel, or with warrior saints like Saint George. In this work de Groux shows him in a position of weakness. Echoing his Mocking of Christ, the artist’s resounding affirmation of the greatness of the vanquished, his Saint Michael the Archangel is an ambiguous figure, alone and in chains, his shoulders drooping and a lost look in his eyes, but is nonetheless depicted with the attributes heralding his final victory.