Lucien Levy-Dhurmer used pastel, his favourite technique, for this portrait of the Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach in 1896. Although Georges Rodenbach, a Belgian by birth, had been living in Paris since 1888, it was not until 1895 that he discovered the work of Levy-Dhurmer. The portrait in the Musee d'Orsay bears witness to the swift friendship tinged with mutual respect which grew up between the two men.
The poet is shown in a frontal view, head and shoulders, against a background suggesting the town of Bruges. To show how Rodenbach was linked to the Venice of the North, the painter has blended his shoulders with the water of the canal behind him: they are so completely fused that it is hard to say where reality ends and dream begins.
The portrait refers to the work which made Georges Rodenbach famous: Bruges-La-Morte. Printed in serial form in Le Figaro in 1892, Bruges-La-Morte was published as a novel the same year. The Belgian symbolist painter Ferdinand Khnopff produced the frontispiece on the author's request. The Gothic architecture in the background of this portrait was probably inspired by the photographs illustrating the novel.