UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Belgian avant-gardism, 1887-1889 : Les Vingt, L’Art Moderne and the utopian vision DeFina, Carol Ann


In 1883 a group of Belgian artists wishing to challenge the hegemony of the Brussels Academy founded the organization, Les Vingt, on the principles of egalitarianism and artistic freedom and elected Octave Maus, editor of the self-proclaimed avant-garde journal, L'Art Moderne, as its secretary. Henceforth, Les Vingt assumed the identity of Belgium's leading visual exponent of modernité and L'Art Moderne became its foremost champion. In actuality, the alliance the Vingtistes formed with L'Art Moderne allowed Octave Maus and his co-editor Edmund Picard to gain control of the group's operations. The journal's editors, through their association with the Belgian social reform movement, had formulated an artistic concept they called l'art social and Les Vingt was to become the incarnation of this new doctrine of social art. During the period of 1887 to 1889, however, while the Belgian workers' movement erupted in a succession of strikes and demonstrations, Maus and Picard radically changed their strategy in marketing Les Vingt to its viewing public. They campaigned for a revised, "depoliticized" avant-garde identity for the group, and the model they chose to represent this new identity was French divisionism. The group's appropriation of divisionism, however, signified a forfeiture of many of the group's original ideals. Furthermore, it became a point of conflict for those Vingtistes who chose to remain loyal to their own styles. This conflict is evident in the case of James Ensor, one of the group's important founding members. During this period, he developed his own personal imagery that was a synthesis of Flemish and modern themes and motifs. This imagery made a bold, critical attack upon Les Vingt's capitulation to French divisionism, which signified an acqui-esence to the ardently Francophile tastes of the Brussels bourgeoisie. The focus of this thesis is an analysis of Les Vingt's avant-garde identity as it evolved out of its relationship with L'Art Moderne, and how that relationship led to the importation of divisionism. Ensor's conflict with Les Vingt and his provocative Flemish imagery is also examined as a means of assessing the significance of Les Vingt's adoption of the French art style.

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