Isabelle de Borchgrave was born in Etterbeek, Belgium, in 1946. She began her artistic endeavors at an early age, taking her place at the Centres des Arts Decoratifs at just 14. She went on to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where she obtained her degree. De Borchgrave opened her own studio almost immediately, knowing exactly where her passion lay and what she wanted to do with her skills and talent; she would work in interior design and focus her energies on fashion.
De Borchgrave did well, of course, and her success was due in part to her tenacity and in part to her vast talent. Yet it was 1994 that was the true turning point for the Belgian artist. In 1994, she began to think about how one might use paper in art, not just as a medium to create art on, but as the art itself. It was from this idea that her famous trompe-l’oeil was created. By combining her love of fashion, history, and this new idea Isabelle de Borchgrave became highly sought after, and her creations – historical clothing made from paper – were very much admired.
Despite the fact that it is Isabelle de Borchgrave’s paper creations that truly made her name and brought her to the public’s artistic attention, she has always painted and sculpted as well, and there are many different works, entirely separate from her paper exhibitions and pieces, that have garnered plenty of respect.
Many of her brightly colored paintings and her beautiful sculptures have been exhibited worldwide, including in the US, the UK, Belgium, France, Brazil, Japan, and Switzerland ever since 1979, and these exhibitions continue right up to the present day.
Papier mache is another medium that Isabelle de Borchgrave enjoys using. Of course, this utilizes her love of paper with sculpture in a different way than when she is using it to create her historical costumes. It proves that paper is itself a versatile medium, especially when combined with such a versatile artist as de Borchgrave.
The themes that present themselves in Isabelle de Borchgrave’s work are eclectic but beautiful, much like her art in general. The main project of her artistic life has been to create life-size historical costumes out of paper.
Although this is the overarching theme of her work, the paper art itself ranges in tone and style. She has created a stunning headdress in the shape of a ship – something akin to an item Marie Antoinette once wore– as well as much more subtle pieces such as some beautiful paper roses to be worn on a Galliano piece used in a Christian Dior show. There is even a wedding dress in her collection that was a replica of that worn by Jackie Kennedy. The original, says de Borchgrave, ‘was dead’, but the new paper version allowed people to see it once more. And this is the beauty of what Isabelle de Borchgrave is able to do – paper might seem like a fragile medium to use, but it can withstand a lot.
The primary influence and inspiration for de Borchgrave’s work comes from early European paintings and their depiction of European life, showing off the opulent costumes and clothing that would have been thought of as high fashion during its day. On top of this, de Borchgrave spent a lot of time examining historical clothing in museums around the world. She would look at photographs (depending on what era she was recreating in her paper medium), sketches, and descriptions from pieces of literature. There was no stone left unturned, and no niche left unexplored; she wanted everything to be as accurate as possible.
It worked. Discovering as much as possible about how these clothes looked and what they were made from ‘in real life’ meant that the paper versions could be exactly right. It means that de Borchgrave could bring all her skills to life by making paper look like textiles and fabric.
Reasons To Buy Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Work
The future is paper. This is an idea to conjure with, even if at first it might seem as though the paper is something from the past. However, when you think more deeply about it, you can see that things have come full circle; we were using paper, switched to plastic, and now, with the majority of people so concerned about the environmental impact plastic is having, especially when it relates to the oceans, we are looking at ways to minimize plastic use once more. So, the future is paper.
This means that Isabelle de Borchgrave’s work is of the future too. Although she might be creating historical costumes, the methods and ideas she is incorporating into her work are decidedly modern and far-reaching. If there is a statement to be made about sustainability and careful living, de Borchgrave is making it. This alone is a great reason to purchase a piece of art by Isabelle de Borchgrave, but there are other reasons too.
Isabelle de Borchgrave’s art is much more accessible than many of her contemporaries. She is not trying to be anything she is not, she is not hiding (too many) secret messages within her art. What she is doing is creating, using her love of history and art together to offer up something that is decidedly de Borchgrave in nature but is made for everyone. Looking at any piece of her art, you can instantly get an idea of exactly what the meaning of the work is and how it is conveyed. Even her more subtle pieces are confusions of abstract thought. This means that anyone can enjoy her art without needing to know anything about the subject at all. When it comes to finding an artist who can offer an introduction to the artistic world but who can also appeal to those who have been collecting various pieces for many years and would even consider themselves to be an expert, there are few who can match de Borchgrave’s ease.