Reply To: Expressionism

  • Encyclios

    April 25, 2023 at 8:26 AM


    After the war, with the return of the old Laethem painters, Belgium saw the development of a coherent expressionist movement. The magazine “Sélection” and the gallery of the same name in Brussels sponsored “Flemish” expressionism, so called because of its analogy with Germany. But the first exhibition (August 1920) paid homage to Cubism and the Paris school.

    The fundamental fact of the post-war period is that discipline and expressive vigor are extrapolated from Cubism, as until recently color had been asked to enhance the expression of sensations and feelings.

    The social aspect exists in the Flemings as much as in Germany, but in Permeke, De Smet, Van den Berghe, Tytgat it is more rural than urban.

    Permeke is the only one to give his characters a monumental dimension (Black Bread, 1923: Ghent, private collection; Gamekeeper, 1927: Courtrai, private collection), while genre scenes are more numerous in him than in his companions (De Smet, Life on the Farm, 1928: Brussels, private collection).

    There is no shortage of analogies with some foreign painters engaged in modern figuration, such as Léger in France and Schlemmer in Germany, who one would not know how to place in expressionism, while Van den Berghe soon adopted elements frequent in magical realism or surrealism (series of gouaches on the theme of Woman, 1925).

    Frans Masereel, engraver on wood, denounced with rare fidelity the defects of the time, the devouring metropolis; but his images do not stick to the realistic transposition, which German engravers aspired to before 1914 (The City, one hundred woods, 1925: Paris).

    After 1930, the saturation of the art market, the offensive return of realism and the very success of the movement were the causes of the decline of Flemish expressionism; however, Permeke continued to enrich his world with the rustic cycle of Jabbeke, reconnecting with the great tradition of Bruegel and Van Gogh (The Potato Eater, 1935: Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts).

    The Brabant landscapes of Jean Brusselmans, hostile to Permeke, offer one of the last manifestations of expressionism, and foreshadow the abstractionism of the second post-war period.

    On the fringes of the movement, Servaes created between 1919 and 1922 a series of religious works that renewed the modern expression of “sacred art,” as Rouault had done in France and Nolde in Germany, his exanguous forms, released by a tangled graphic web, caused a scandal (drawn and painted Via crucis; two Pietas: Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts).