Belgian Art




Henry Leys 1815-1869
Joseph Stevens 1816-1892
Alfred Stevens 1823 -1906
Charles de Groux 1825-1870
Henri de Braekeleer 1840-1888
Spilliaert, Leon (1881-1946)
Permeke, Constant 1886-1952
Francois Lamoriniere


Rubens, Peter Paul 1577-1640
Jordaens, Jacob 1593-1678
De Vow
Siberechts, Jan 1627-1703


Symbolist Poets: Emile Verhaeren, Georges Rodenbach, Gregoire Le Roy, Maurice Maeterlinck

1865 Picard helped found a liberal paper, La Liberte, calling for greater freedom of the press, compulsory instruction of the working class and electoral reform.

La Jeune Belgique focused on naturalist literature. 1893 Antwerp launched a literary journal Van Nu en Straks (Present and Future) designed by Henry van de
Velde who abandoned painting for architecture and decorative arts. Only lasted a few years but a byword for the Flemish artistic and socially committed avant-garde. Various societies and journals organized a series of exhibitions, lectures and concerts intertwining different artistic disciplines.

1881:  Octave Maus and Edmond Picard co-founded the weekly avant-garde periodical Art moderne along with Victor Arnould and Eugène Robert. Arnould and Robert former collaborators on La Liberte. Maus and Picard met in 1877. First Issue appeared 6 March 1881 and lasted until 9 August 1914. It appeared every Sunday. Articles went unsigned until 1898 and the members of the board were not revealed until 8 April 1883.


1868:  A group of Belgian Realist artists form the Societe Libre des Beaux Arts. Naturalist writer Camille Lemonnier writes for L'Art libre. This was Belgium's first avant-garde group included Louis Dubois, Charles de Groux and Hippolyte Boulenger.

1893:  Universal Sufferage

Belgium in the mid 19th Century had a strong liberal minded middle class to support modern art. Many French exiles came to Belgium when Napolean III rose to power in 1851 including Victor Hugo and the socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Charles Baudelaire was in Belgium in 1864-6 and later wrote "Poor Belgium". J-L David exiled there in 1815. The last two decades saw great economic growth and increased social awareness and political realignment.

Exhibiting organizations La Chrysalide and L'Essor and the Tri-annual Salons between Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

In the first half of the 19th century, Neo-classicism had to contend with Flemish Baroque, of which the Romantic school including Delacroix and Gericault, found its roots. John Constable owned much to Rubens as well as Jordaens, Snyder, De Vos, and Siberachts.

Courbet visited 1846-7, exhibited his Stonebreakers at the 1851 Salon and regularly thereafter, called Belguim, "my country." Millet and other Realists showed in Belgium from the mid century and many ended up in private collections. Influence of the Barbizon school seen by 1850. Belgian artists worked there from 1845 and formed a similar environment in places such as Tervuren near Brussels. By 1860 Romatic Realist landscape widespread. Note the work of Joseph Stevens, Felicien Rops, and Alfred Stevens. Very important is the work of Hippolyte Boulenger 1837-1874 who was influenced by Theodore Rousseau, he recorded but also depicted his emotional response to nature. He is a central figure of the Tervuren School. The effect of Courbet seen through Flemish Expressionism of Constant Permeke. Note Social realists Rops, Charles de Groux and Joseph Stevens.

Counter to this neo-Baroque style is Antwerp's Henry Leys reconstructions of medieval scenes inspired by the German Nazarenes and Pre-Raphaelities. Henri Braekeleer is a pupil of his. They inspire Ensor, Khnopff, and Mellery. This nostalgia rebels against mainstream modernity. Note Francois Lamoriniere. There is concurrently in Belgium a Neo-Gothic revival particuarily in architecture. This interest in the Middle Ages inspired Symbolists in the 1880's.

National Features: Realism and Naturalism. Painterly quality. Social involvement, Meunier's social realism, anarchist mockery of Ensor and Rops. Idiosyncratic subject matter.

Note German and English influences.


Whistler a stronger influence than Monet or Renoir. Importance of light in realist painting of Henri de Braekeleer. (Note Turner)

Impressionism found in the work of Boulenger, Artan, Dubois, Vogels, Van Strydonck, Mertens, Larock, Verstraete, Baertsoen, Hens, early Finch, Van Rysselberghe, Ensor and somewhat so in Evenepoel. The early generation of Impressionist artists in the 60's were Hippolyte Boulenger (1837-1874) in Tervuren, Heymans 1839-1921 in the Kempen (La Campaine), Louis Arten de Saint Martin, and Felician Rops on the North Sea Coast. Note landscape painting of Guillaume Vogels, James Ensor and Van Rysselberghe influenced by Rubens. Belgian artists used more muted colors than the French in broadly laid brushstrokes creating a  richly textured surface. Their tone refered to as the 'Grey School'.

1880 is considered the birth of the of a national I school. It is I works that gained the greatest support in the early Les XX exhibitions.

Ensor's interiors. His Oyster Eater (1882) hailed by Emile Verhaeren as the first painting to celebrate light executed in Belgium. Ensor was probably not familiar with FI at this time. Did see Manet in 1882 at the Antwerp Triennial Exhibition. His impressionism though expresses an "explosion of imagination" which separates him from Impressionist technique and moves his art into the realm of Symbolism. He had an impact on van Strydonck, Toorop, Charlet, Finch and Vogels.

Vogels  (page 32)2 Influence on the Greek painter who came to Brussels from Paris, Pericles Pantazis (1849-84) painted in the Forest of Soignes and the North Sea coast. van Rysselberghe and other vingtistes draw to I. by the North Sea coast. Van Rysselberghe also went to Spain and Morocco where his palette lightened. Whistler also lead some members of Les XX away from their somber realism. Had a greater influence than Monet or Renoir. Whistler's form of I more like that of Degas.

Antwerp I's: Baseleer and Hens. Ghent: Baertsoen and Willaert. Flemish Carpentier.


Belgium becomes a bastion of Pointalism outside of France. 1887, show Seurat's Un Dimanche Apres-midi a la Grande Jatte. Verhaeren conveys enthusiasm for Seurat's paintings to van Rysselberghe he saw at the final Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1886 which he saw while there publishing a poetry book in May. The term NI used for first time by Felix Feneon in an article sent to L'Art moderne in Brussels in response to the second Salon des Independants where Sunday Afternoon at La Grande Jatte was shown again.

Finch first convert. He showed his pointalist paintings along side Seurat and Signac at the 88 Salon. After that exhibition van Rysselberghe,  returning from a trip to Morocco, began using the divisionist technique. van de Velde also. His Beach at Blankenberghe with Beach Hats earned him membership to Les XX along with Lemmen who was in process of joining NIs. He followed after Toorop joined the fold.

1891 brought the death of Seurat and a move towards the decorative arts. See the Salon of 91.

Van Rysselberghe remained faithful for awhile. Spaniard Dario de Regoyos, George Morren, Willy Schlobach, Frantz Charlet, Anna Boch (Van Rysselberghe's disciple and Octave Maus niece?) Franz Gailliard and Emile Claus all tried the technique for awhile.


Emile Claus version called Luminism and effected a strong influence on Belgian art. From Ghent, he returned to Astene and the banks of the Lys during the 80's.



James Ensor's Expressionism. Showed a series of drawings at the Les XX exhibition of 1887 called The Halos of Christ or the Sensibilities of Light.

Expressionism of Kollwitz and Barlach.


Movement to applied and decorative arts: Graphic arts of book illustration and Les XX catalogues: Khnopff, Lemmen, Van de Velde and Van Rysselberghe in the 80's and 90's. Lemmend moved from painting to graphic design Finch into the decorative arts around 1890, chiefly in ceramics. van de Velde stopped painting entirely and moved to architecture and graphic design.

Latem Group at Sint-Martens-Latem on River Lys near Ghent

Valerius de Saedeleer 1867-1941, Albijn van den Abeele 1835-1918, Albert Servaes 1883-1966, Gustave van de Woetijne 1881-1947, Jacob Smits. Poet Karel van de Woestijne 1878-1929 and George Minne were the inspiring force.

Leon Spilliaert in Ostend: symbolist/surrealist with a theatrical bent.

Social reflection of Minne, Meunier and Laermans.

Jacob Smits 1855-1928 worked in the Kempen region, La Campine.


Eleven Founding Members
Ensor, James 1860-1949
Van Rysselberghe, Theo 1862-1926
Khnopff, Fernand 1858-1921
Finch, Alfred William
Charlet, Frantz b 1862
Dubois, Paul
Goethals, Charles c1853–85
Darío de Regoyos (Spanish)
Schlobach, Willy b 1864
Van Strydonck, Guillaume 1861–1937
Wytsman, Rodolphe 1860–1927

Nine Invited Members
Vogels, Guillaume
Chainaye, Achille 1862–1915
Delvin, Jean b 1853
Lambeaux, Jef
Pantazis, Périclès (Greek) 1849-1884
Simons, Frans 1855–1919
Vanaise, Gustave 1854–1902
Verhaert, Piet 1852–1908
Verstraete, Théodore 1850–1907

Twelve Later Invited Members
Rops, Felicien 1833-1898
Lemmen, Georges 1865-1916
Minne, George 1866-1941
Boch, Anna 1848-1926
Van de Velde
Charlier, Guillaume
Henry De Groux
Picard, Robert b 1870
Toorop, Jan (Dutch)
Rodin, Odilon (French)
Signac, Paul (French)
Verheyden, Isidore

Others Associated with Les XX
Evenepoel, Henri Jacques 1872-1899
Mellery, Xavier 1845-1921
Delville, Jean 1867-1953
Degouve de Nuncques, William 1867-1935
Wouters, Rik 1882-1916

Max Liebermann (German) 1847-1935
John Singer Sargent (American) 1856-1925
Whistler, James McNeil (American) 1834-1903
Chase, William Merritt (American) 1849-1916
Stott, William (British) 1857-1900
Crane, Walter (British) 1845-1915

Paul Cézanne
Claude Monet
Auguste Renoir
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Georges Seurat
Paul Gauguin

Writers    Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme

Composers    Cesar Franck, Vincent d'Indy, Gabriel Faure, Ernest Chausson, Eugene Ysaye (violinist)

Belgian exhibition society. It was founded on 28 October 1883 in Brussels and held annual shows there between 1884 and 1893. No president or governing committee. The group was formed by 11 artists dissatisfied with the conservative policies of the organization L’Essor and the official academic Salon. L'Essor ('Soaring') was set up also in opposition to the Salon, but with a strong bureaucratic element of twenty Essorians comprising a governing committe. Octave Maus (lawyer, journalist, art critic) acted as the secretary of Les XX, which was free of stifling regualtions.  He was nicknamed Joyeux by the musician Alberic Magnard. The extent of governing was done by a rotating committee of three which organized the exhibitions. Painters played key roles in hanging their works. In addition to the twenty members, twenty international invitees would also exhibit.

Octave Maus, Edmond Picard and Emile Verhaeren (Belgian poet) were the driving force of the associated review, L'Art Moderne. (Created in 1881) There was a close tie between art and literature among the Les XX artists as is usually the case among Symbolist painters.


The first of ten annual exhibitions  was held on 2 February at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Whistler sent Maus an illustration for the catalogue to this opening exhibition. One of the stipulations was that twenty artists, both Belgian and foreign, would be invited each year to exhibit with the founding members of Les XX. In the first year's show the foreign invitees included Auguste Rodin, John Singer Sargent, Max Liebermann, Whistler and William Merritt Chase. Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson and Gabriel Fauré gave concerts, and lectures where given by Stéphane Mallarmé, Théodore de Wyzewa and Paul Verlaine.

Whistler exhibited four paintings: Symphony in White, No. 3, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, and a number of his Venice etchings.

Pantazis died before the opening and shortly after Lambeaux and Verhaert resigned, disconcerted by the progressive spirit allied to the group.


Whistler exhibited Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate and in 1888 Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket, mistaken by Maus for a portrait of Lady A. Campbell. Whistler and Maus were in correspondence during this time. In his letters Maus reverently referred to Whistler as 'mon cher Maître'. He wrote to a friend in November 1886, 'As for Whistler, my dear friend, you know that I admire the artist, and that I am very fond of the man.' However, he objected to Whistler's admission to the the Société des XX, on the grounds that 'he is a foreigner and lives abroad'

Monet and Renoir exhibit.

May: Verhaeren in Paris for publication for poems, Les Moines.

Last Impressionist Exhibition in Paris.


Pissarro Morisot and Seurat exhibit (Monet and Renoir??) Seurat and Signac present.

Conservative artists Lambeaux, Verhaert, Verstraete, Simons, Delvin and Vanaise had fled from Les XX, some under direct pressure from Maus and Picard.


Octave Maus' essay "Painting and the search for light" accompanies the catalogue.

Whistler shown.

Pissarro Morisot and Seurat (Monet and Renior??) as well as new comers Caillebotte, Cross, Lautrec, Dubois-Pillet and Signac exhibit.


George Minne joins Les XX


Xavier Mellery (intimisme) showed seven drawings, "the inner life of things".


French posters and book illustrations by Walter Crane shown for first time. Finch's first attempts at ceramics. Three vases and a statue by invitee Paul Gauguin.


Jean Delville was the leader of the schism which broke out the year of the first Rose+Croix exhibition.


Maus proposed that Les XX should be dissolved. In the following year he founded Libre Esthétique, but World War I brought it to an end.



1.    Autour de 1900: L'Art Belge (1884-1918). London exhibition catalouge published by The Arts Council 1965.
2.    Impressionism to Symbolism The Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900. Royal Academy of Arts, London 7 July - 2 October 1994. Edited by MaryAnne Stevens with Robert Hoozee.Octave Maus, L’Espagne des artistes (Brussels, 1887); O. Maus, Souvenirs d’un Wagnériste: Le Théâtre de Bayreuth (Brussels, 1888); O. Maus, Les Préludes: Impressions d’adolescence (Brussels, 1921).