Brussels became at the end of the 19th century a crossroad of new cultural mouvements amongst which Art Nouveau was finding his final shape as a pure style. Traditional workmethods and the use of precious materials make Art Nouveau an exclusive Art. A strong individual art, not only by themes or symbols, but by his connection to its mandatories for whom houses, furnitures, decorative objects and juwelry were created.
Initially the motivation to a radical renawel of Art came from frenchspeaking writers and artists. Between 1874 and 1900, six literary magazines were established in Brussels: L'étudiant, L'artiste, L'actualité, Le samedi, La chrysalide, La jeune revue littéraire.
A breakthrough of modernism took mainly place in 1881 when both magazines L'Art Moderne and La Jeune Belgique were founded:
‘C'est le temps des folles passions, des enthousiasmes et des fièvres, des colères sacrées, des théories audacieuses, des admirations intransigeantes, des manifestes, des proclamations, des défis, voire des duels’..
['It is a time of mad passions, enthusiasm and fevers, sacred anger, daring theories, uncompromising admiration, manifestos, proclamations, challenges and even duels.']
The weekly magazine L'Art Moderne, established on March 6th of 1881 by Octave Maus (which later will become the official organ of XX - read 'twenty' ), and with its members of the editorial staff Victor Arnould, Edmond Picard and Eugène Robert, were propagated a social artvision. The interaction between the various arts, and especially literary and visual art, came already alive in his sub-title:
‘Revue critique des Arts et de la Littérature’. Le programme mentionnait: 'Notre ambition n'est pas modeste. Nous voulons aplanir les voies, faciliter les rapports entre les artistes et le public, afin que l'Art acquière chaque jour d'avantage la bienfaisante influence sociale qui doit lui appartenir, afin aussi que les artistes occupent matériellement et moralement la situation importante dont ils sont dignes’.
[Critical review of Arts and Literature. The program mentioned: Our ambition is not modest. We want to flatten the paths, to facilitate the relations between the artists and the public, so that the Art acquires every day more the beneficial social influence which must belong to it, so that the artists occupy materially and morally the important situation of which they are worthy.' ]
As of 1884 the editors called themselves ‘les croyants de l'Art Nouveau’. [The believers of the Art Nouveau']
La jeune Belgique at the contrary was a literary monthly magazine, established 01.12.1881 by Alfred Bauwens and Max Waller (alias of Maurice Warlomont), ment as compilation of young, modernist writers and as a memory to La Jeune Revue Littéraire (established a year before by Alfred Bauwens) as a copy of the french magazine La Jeune France. Although initially the representatives of different directions were united under the guidance of Max Waller, the magazine became as of 1893, under influence of Albert Giraud and Iwan Gilkin, more decisive regarding the ‘Art for Art’ and the strong Parnassian shape and started a battle against socialy engaged literature and against symbolism, which lead to the loss of important members as Georges Eekhoud and Emile Verhaeren which left the editorial.
fltr : L'Art Moderne - cover Max Waller, La Jeune Belgique - Portrait of 'Octave Maus' by Théo Rysselberghe 1885 - Stamp repr. Max Waller
An assembly took place on 28th of october 1883 in the Tavern Guillaume, Place du Musée in Brussels. Those youngsters came together without a proper program, which lead immediately to strong discussions. As free artists, they wanted to deny every kind of academicism, to refuse every aestheticism, and to reject any interference. The founders saw themselves as progressive and wanted to keep their distances of the conservative and bourgeois group Cercle Artistique et Littéraire de Bruxelles. Surprisingly, interactions between both art groups remained possible: thus James Ensor exposed in 1884 some works in the Cercle and Fernand Khnopff gaved a reading in 1892.
The brussels laywer Octave Maus revealed himself as a vivid organisor, maecenas, speaker and inspiror of the revolting new artgroup, Le Cercle des XX, active between 1883 and 1893. He was also his administrator.
This memorable group of young radical artists and renewers rebelled against the older getting academicism and the existing artistic values.
This group can be considered as the heir of the artistic groups La Chrysalide and L'Essor. In 1893 and after his dissolution, La Libre Esthétique (till 1914) became his successor (see below).
'Les XX' committed themselves to renew the artistic life in Antwerp, by organising yearly a salon in the city of Antwerp, aswell to participate at group exhibitions.
The establishment of 'Les XX' was meant to allow modern painters (whose works often were refused at offical exhibitions) possibilities to exhibit and to propagate modern art. In the official charter of foundation, formulated on the 4th of January 1884, was stipulated that each 'vingtist’ had the right to exhibit six of his works, the 'invited' artists each one work. Next to the annual exhibitions, who clearly reflects the evolution of impressionism to Art Nouveau, lectures were organised about modern art and concerts of new music (certainly since the cooperation with Eugène Ysaye). The spirit of modernism persuades thus literary, musical and plastic art events.
fltr. : Fernand Khnopff - Willy Finch - Eugène Ysaye - Georges Eekhoud - Emile Verhaeren - Iwan Gilkin
Achille Chainaye (resigned 1889) - Frantz Charlet - Jean Delvin (resigned 1886) - Paul Dubois - Willy Finch - James Ensor - Jules Goethals - Adrien-Joseph Heymans - Fernand Khnopff - Jef Lambeaux (resigned 1884) - Pericles Pantazis - Dario de Regoyos - Willy Schlobach - Frans Simons (resigned 1885) - Gustave Vanaise (resigned 1886) - Théo van Rysselberghe - Guillaume Van Strydonck - Pieter Verhaert (resigned 1884) - Theodoor Verstraete (resigned 1885) - Guillaume Vogels - Rodolphe Wytsman (resigned 1889)
They were all belgians. In the 10 years of existance of 'Les XX' only three foreigners joined as member this group:
Jan Toorop of the Netherlands in 1885, and the frenchmen Auguste Rodin in 1889 and Paul Signac in 1890. Other foreigners were only 'guests' at an exhibition-salon.
The annual Salons des XX of 1884 - 1885 - 1886 - 1887 - 1888 - 1889 - 1890 - 1891 - 1892 - 1893 finally gave one chance to exhibit for at least 32 artists, first held at the Museum for Ancient Art, later of Modern Art.
Some artists simply were refused to join and not always for quality reasons.
The vacant places by resigned members were filled by : Isidoor Verheyden (1885), Guillaume Charlier (1885), Felicien Rops (1886), Henry de Groux (1886, but excluded in 1890), Anna Boch (1886), Georges Lemmen (1889), Henry Van de Velde (1889) and Georges Minne (1890).
The frenchman Robert Picard, son of Edmond Picard, was added as additional foreigner.
Several members also joined the Cercle Arte et Labore.
Belgian invited artists or 'guests' were: Louis Artan, Constantin Meunier, Eugène Smits, Xavier Mellery, Henri De Braekeleer, Jan Stobbaerts, William Degouve de Nuncques, Charles Van der Stappen, Paul De Vigne, Thomas Vinçotte.
National and international like-minded were invited to participate
and came as 'guests' to the 'annual Salons des XX':
Louis Anquetin (1888) - Paul Cézanne (1890) - Jules Chéret (1891) - Paul Signac (1888) -
Henri-Edmond Cross (1889, 1893) - Auguste Delaherche (1892) - Maurice Denis (1892) -
Henri Fantin-Latour (1885) - Paul Gauguin (1889, 1891) - Armand Guillaumin (1888, 1891) -
Paul-César Helleu (1888) - Alfred Sisley (1890, 1891) - Albert Lebourg (1887) -
Maxime Luce (1889) - Claude Monet (1886, 1889) - Berthe Morisot (1887) -
Camille Pissarro (1887, 1889, 1891) - Jean-François Rafaelli (1885, 1887) -
Odilon Redon (1886, 1890) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1886, 1890) - Auguste Rodin (1884, 1887) -
Louis-Oscar Roty (1884, 1886, 1890) - Georges Seurat (1887, 1889, 1891) -
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1888, 1890, 1892, 1893)
From the Netherlands:
George Hendrik Breitner (1886), Vincent Van Gogh (1890, 1891), Isaac Israëls (1884),
Johan Thorn Prikker (1893)
Walter Crane (1891), Ford Madox Brown (1893)
Mary Cassatt (1892), James McNeill Whistler (1884, 1886, 1888)
Giovanni Segantini (1890)
In 1881 the painting 'De Oestereetster' by James Ensor was refused for an exhibition in Antwerp. There was a similar refusal in 1882 for the Ensor-salon of Brussels. Also Willy Finch got turned down. The rejections were officialy motivated for style-technical reasons. But they should be seen in the light of the controversy in those days around the work and the person of Ensor, than 20 years of age, and the contradiction between artistic opinions of the 'Official Salons' and those of the 'rebel renewers''.
All the fuss, started in 1883, would result in a regroup of mainly young artists into the new 'Les XX'.
James Ensor, founding member, exposed on the first exhibition of 'Les XX' in 1884 with six of his works.
He got a rather disparaging critic, with amongst others a first article in L'Art Moderne.
But his submission for the official Salon of Brussel was again rejected. He did send twenty of his works to the salon of 'Les XX' in 1886, but the critics only discussed his technique rather than the artistic value of his works.
In 1886 the painting 'De Oestereetster' (Image left 'The Oystereating woman') was depicted in 'La Gazette' as "...example of circus art...". Again in 1908, the painting was refused, this time by the Museum of Liège.
Repeated trials were often openly expressed, and were certainly not unusual.
This way James Ensor, still a pioneer of the group, mocked down the pointillism of Théo Van Rysselberghe. In 1884 he argued, together with Guillaume Vogels, the joining of James McNeill Whistler, while Willy Finch and Willy Schlobach defended the american master.
James Ensor himself barely outrunned the resignation, when his 'Entrée du Christ', his masterpiece, was rejected in 1889.
Henry de Groux, the 'enfant terrible' of the 'Les XX', was excluded, when he unpleasantly protested against the 'repulsive flower pots' of Vincent Van Gogh in 1890. It was on this Salon des XX in 1890 that Anna Boch bought the painting 'De rode wingerd' of Van Gogh for the sum of 400 belgian franks, the only painting which later turned out to be sold during the paintors life.
The lack of a proper program brought Octave Maus in difficulties, and obliged him to dissolve the group during springtime in 1893, despite heavy protest of James Ensor.
The following year, in 1894, Octave Maus established a new group La Libre Esthétique, a further developped and extension with the same progressive mind, but with a different organisation: instead of a federation of artists, the major representatives, aswell foreigners, of modern art in all his shapes, were invited to exhibit their work during an annual Salon. Most of the 'vingtists' joined the group. Regarding all previous discussions, he would now turn away from 'member-artists', to 'guests' only.
The first Salon openend on 17th of february 1894. In 1896, works were exhibited of amongst others Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, aswell of furniture-maker Henry Van de Velde and his 'salle de five o'clock'.