The sec. XVIII. – It was a less splendid century than the previous one: Gerardo de Lairesse and Verhaegen for painting, Lorenzo Delvaux and Godechartle for sculpture, porcelain from Tournai, majolica from Brussels and furniture from Liege for the minor arts. is completely dark. It was, moreover, a very unhappy period politically and economically, and one would have to wait for the revolution of 1830 to be able to notice a new flowering of art.
In the moment in which Belgium constitutes an independent nation, it seems that a new breath revives its artistic energies that the century. XVIII had very weakened; and for the whole century. XIX political freedom favors a prodigious industrial and commercial prosperity, as well as cultural and artistic development which has found its expression in truly remarkable works.
During this time Belgian painting develops with a rhythm analogous to that of French painting: the immediate proximity of the two countries necessarily had to create a certain similarity, and the qualities of French art of the century. XIX were to be especially appreciated by neighboring Belgians. But these similarities don’t mean imitation; Belgian art preserves original manners, indeed it preserves them much more than other art schools than in the century. XIX partly lost their national characteristics.
In 1830 in Brussels, as in Paris, the classics and the romantics are struggling. The tradition of Ingres and David is represented by FG Navez of Charleroi (1787-1869), who left us some wonderful portraits, while at the Salon of 1830 a young painter from Antwerp, G. Wappers (1803-1874), marked a true revolution with its historical picture. Navez had no continuators, at least in his classical manner; Portaels, his son-in-law, who succeeded him in the direction of the Brussels Academy, left his pupils, as Navez had done, the greatest freedom, and this eclectic teaching allowed the formation of very different talents, which constituted the glory of school in its second term. Historical painting for a quarter of a century attracted artists, seduced amateurs, was encouraged by public authorities. His laborious compositions, because they are always enormous in size, are no longer in taste in our time and it seems to us that they clutter up our museums; we have a hard time understanding the enthusiasm that aroused the works of N. de Keyser (1813-1887) of Antwerp, of Luigi Gallait (1810-1887) of Tournai, of A. Wiertz (1806-1865) of Dinant. The latter, the most ardent and the most romantic of all, left his studio in bond with the state, which made it a special museum.
A great artist belongs to this school, Baron Henry Leys (1815-1869) of Antwerp, who admirably decorated the town hall of his native city. And finally notable among his contemporaries is the landscape painter T. Fourmois (1814-1872) of Presles in Hainaut.
Around 1860 the Salons’ physiognomy gradually changed. The famous masters of historical painting saw their star pale in front of the influx of newcomers, who, although differing greatly from each other, had a common thought, drawing inspiration more directly from nature. To make use of more commonly used terms, the romantics were then succeeded by the naturalists. We no longer thought about reviving scenes from the past: if the whole composition lost us, life gained; the technique was less correct, but wider and warmer.
We are in the splendid period of the portraitist Liévin de Winne (1822-1880) of Ghent; the elegant and somewhat mannered interior painter Florent Willems (1823-1905) from Liège; of the two Stevens brothers of Brussels, of which the eldest, Giuseppe (1822-1892), devoted himself almost exclusively to painting dogs, and the other, Alfredo (1824-1906), was famous for expressing the feminine graces of the second empire ; by Carlo De Groux (1825-1870) of Comines, melancholy evocator of popular scenes; by Luigi Dubois (1830-1880) of Brussels, sometimes an emulator of Courbet; by Costantino Meunier (1831-1905) of Brussels, who then had to abandon painting to triumph in sculpture; by Feliciano Rops (1833-1898) of Namur, who was one of the great masters of etching in Europe; d’Ippolito Boulenger (1837-1874) of Tournai, incomparable landscape painter; by Alfredo Verwée (1838-1895) of Brussels, who painted the Flemish dunes and landscapes with cows; by Enrico de Braekeleer (1840-1888) of Antwerp, painter of rich interiors; by Emilio Wauters born in 1846 in Brussels, of which the renowned one is preserved in the park of the sixteenth century Panorama of Cairo ; by Saverio Mellery (1845-1921) and many others. It can be seen from the various birthplaces of these artists belonging to such different regions, that the talents have opened up in every part of the country. When Belgium celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its independence in 1880, the magnificent exhibition, in which 337 painters with 967 paintings took part, was a kind of apotheosis of the Belgian school.
But already other trends were manifesting themselves. In 1883 the “Circle of the XX” was founded, which ten years later expanded into the Libre Esthétique. Naturalists see the struggle they had waged against the romantics begin anew against them. The impressionists, the luminists, the point drivers, the machinists arise: the need for a new liberation is felt by all. In 1871 Luigi Dubois wrote the Art Libre and in 1893 Ottavio Maus was the director of the Libre Esthétique. The war cry is almost always the same: it is always in the name of freedom that the right to novelty is claimed, to the reaction against formulas which, after being new once, with habit and repetition have ended up tiring.. However, the annual exhibitions of the “XX” and the Libre Esthétique, complemented by musical auditions and lectures, did not come from a specific system; all manifestations were welcomed there, as long as they brought something new. With the club’s invitations to foreign artists, it kept itself in the vanguard and put a little love of self in revealing unknown talents.
Among the “XX”, we find Felician0 Rops and Costantino Meunier of the previous generation. Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) happily applies the process of dividing the tone into graceful decorations; James Ensor establishes himself as one of the most vigorous Belgian masters in interiors, still lifes and fantastic and burlesque paintings; Ferdinando Khnopff (1858-1921) under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites draws mysterious compositions; Guglielmo Vogels (1838-1896) is one of the masters of the Impressionist landscape; Giorgio Lemmen (1865-1915) places figures of women in the midst of tasty decorations.
Among these painters by now disappeared we will also mention the painter known for the landscapes of the Ourthe, Augusto Donnay (1862-1922), who was one of the most characteristic and original artists of Belgium.
Enrico de Groux (1866-1930) son of Charles, the landscape painters Heymans and Gilsoul, the peasant painters Leone Frédéric and Laermans all more or less adhered to the movement headed by the Libre Esthétique, because other circles, such as Essor and Pour l’Art, they brought together other artists more with bonds of friendship and camaraderie than with those of the actual artistic school. In the early years of the century. XX the Belgian school was truly remarkable and rich and welcomed a very large number of distinguished talents.
Emilio Claus (1849-1924) gave the Lys landscapes an imprint of emotion, while Jacob Smits (1855-1928), although born in Rotterdam, exalted the town of Campine more than anyone else.
AG Wauters, brother of Emilio, in finishing his Histoire de la peinture flamande, around 1883, wrote: “Only the highest place remains empty: the school lacks a truly great artist, who, disdaining the fragmented works, tries to boldly reach and grandly the spirit of the century. Are there not the shipyards of Antwerp, the workshops of Seraing, the foundries of Liège, the coal mines, the blast furnaces, the glassworks? in great painting the soul of the nineteenth century? ” Wauters made an appeal, but there was neither a painter nor a young artist who had to answer it. For Belgium 1999, please check estatelearning.com.
Costantino Meunier was over fifty years old when he exhibited his Puddleur assis in one of the first halls of the “XX” ; until then he had been a fine painter, but in sculpture he established himself with greater success. As Wauters had foreseen, it was the aspects of industrial life, a new and modern source of inspiration, which revealed to him what energies for art were peculiar to his genius. He was the sculptor of the worker of our time: he represented him, heroic in his effort, with the grandeur of ancient statues. Porters, mallet workers, charcoal burners, glassmakers, quarrymen, fishermen or peasants, isolated or in groups, were for him subjects of bronzes destined for public squares; then he brought them all together in that marvelous synthesis which is the Monument to Work. Thus in the Belgian art of the century. XIX Costantino Meunier occupies the highest place.
Alongside the name of Meunier, many other names of sculptors should be mentioned, and particularly that of Lambeaux (1852-1908), in which it seemed that the soul of Jordaens was revived, and that of Baron Vinçotte (1850-1925).
At the same time, architecture flourished. Under the reign of Leopold II, great thoughtful builder of city decorum, the Babylonian Palace of Justice (Poelaert), the Museum of Fine Arts of Brussels (Balat), the Royal Palace (Vanderstraeten), the House of the People in Brussels ( Horta).
Then came the war with the German occupation: more than four years of anguish and silence, during which all national life seemed suspended. But as soon as the storm passed, the country wanted to regain momentum with all the greater intensity, the more it had been deprived of its normal activities. Among the painters, the majority held to tradition, others, Cubists, Expressionists, Surrealists, reconnect with the French avant-garde. The group of the “Young Belgian painting” was formed, which among the first claimed James Ensor and Valerio de Sadeleer. The most ingenious seems to be the Permeke of Ostend; but among all living Belgian artists there is not a head school; in twenty or thirty there is no name that stands out. Their activity does not take place only in the capital, and if there are no schools, there are local centers: Opsomer and Hens work in Antwerp; in Liège, under the impulse of Rassenfosse, Walloon artists, including M. Mambour; in Laethem Saint-Martin near Ghent the Servaes and the sculptor Giorgio Minne; in Malines Van de Woestyne; in the Hainaut in Charleroi the painter of the industrial landscape Pietro Paulus and in Mons il Carte, with a pathetic tendency; and many others.
A distinguished sculptor is V. Rousseaux; the Lagae and the Rombaux follow him very closely. Del Devreese and Bonnetain we have excellent medals.