From Ensor to Magritte:Belgian Painting between 1880 and 1940

From Ensor to Magritte: Belgian Painting between 1880 and 1940
  • Introduction
  • Exhibition
  • Gallery
  • Information


This exhibition provides a broad overview of the history of Belgian modern art, which, while including influences from France and Germany, developed its own unique styles and trends.

Section 1. Academism, pleinairism and impressionism

In the latter half of the 19th century, Belgium experienced a wave of progressive artistic thought, and saw the emergence of realist landscape painters such as Louis Artan and Isidore Verheyden. In time, their work came to be seen as academic, and at the end of the 19th century painters such as Henri Evenepoel and Alfred William Finch were quick to adopt the pointillism of Georges Seurat. This section features sensitive and colourful paintings markedly influenced by realism and impressionism.
Alfred William Finch,
Landscape in West Flanders, 1888
Jean Baptiste De Greef
Miss Storobbe in a Park, 1884-86

Section 2. Symbolism and primitivism

Originally discovered by expressionist artists at the beginning of the 20th century, James Ensor was one of the most internationally renowned Belgian painters. At the time Ensor was active, Belgium was home to symbolist painters like Fernand Khnopff and Léon Spilliaert who created works that were mysterious and seemed full of hidden meaning. Among them were painters like Valerius De Saedeleer and Gustave Van de Woestyne, who moved to the village of Sint-Martens-Latem near Ghent and immersed themselves in their work. Their paintings beckon the viewer into a world that is profound and melancholic.
Léon Spilliaert
Woman by the Sea, 1909
Valerius De Saedeleer
Snow in Flanders, 1928
Léon Spilliaert
Self-Portrait, 1907

Section 3. Post-Cubism: Flemish expressionism and abstract art

This section covers the work of Belgian painters who actively adopted European avant-garde art. It includes painters from Gustave De Smet and Constant Permeke, who, influenced by German expressionism, made intense use of colour and bold composition, to Marthe Donas and Jan Kiemeneij, who took up abstract painting under the influence of Picasso's cubism.
Gustave De Smet
Pally, ca.1922
Gustave Van de Woestyne
The Liqueur Drinkers, 1922

Section 4. Surrealism

From around 1926, Belgian surrealists brought themes of the dream world and the world of the unconscious mind into painting. Magritte was clearly a central figure in this movement. Including works by Paul Delvaux and others who depicted extremely surreal worlds despite not being part of the surrealist movement, this section puts on display the visionary art of Belgium that continues to exert a strong pull on people throughout world even today.
Frits Van den Berghe
Distances, ca.1935

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