What is Abstract Modernism in Belgium?
Victor Servrankx, Harbour - Opus 2, 1926, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

The Online Museum, Abstract Modernism in Belgium, tells the story of the pioneers of Abstract Art in the first half of the Twentieth Century up to the end of the 1970’s. Abstract Modernism in Belgium experiences a complex development with many twists and plot developments. 

At the end of the Nineteenth Century, innovations in the realm of science, industry and technology provide for a collective notion of progress. The society changes radically in a short period of time, and people go in search of new forms of organisation and expression. In the spirit of a quest for the new, Modernism in art sees the light. This Modernism results in one of the most important developments in art since the Renaissance: Abstract Art. Various abstract movements develop with a new language of imagery, in which form, colour and line are central.

Already at the beginning, on the eve of the First World War, Abstract Art exists from an amalgam of overlapping, yet contrasting styles. What binds them together is the search for a radically different manner of depicting reality. People reject the traditional illusionist rendering of reality, veering away from the figurative and representation.

One of the new languages of image is geometric abstraction. It is the reasoned and socially engaged art with a language of form that is indebted to geometry. From this, painters base themselves on the experiments of Cubism and Futurism, inter alia. The German Bauhuas, which is influenced by Russian Constructivism and the Dutch De Stijl, determines then the visage of architecture as well.

In addition to geometric abstraction, the lyrical abstraction originates: a free, emotionally-laden form in contrast to the delineated geometric forms. Automatism and individual freedom are thus guiding principles here. Lyrical abstraction knows of many manifestations: from the colour-rich art of Vasili Kandisky (1866 - 1944), covering Expressionism, the Dada movement and Surrealism to the American Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock (1912 - 1956). 

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the historical avant-garde is relatively undervalued, but the Abstract Art in the period after the Second World War grows into a dominant art form. Also in Belgium the first generation, that of the Pure Plasticism, with people such as Marthe Donas, Georges Vantonglerloo and Jozef Peeters, must proceed without the recognition that they deserve. Only with the uprising of a next generation does Abstract Modernsim receive any recognition in Belgium. Jo Delahaut, Maurice Wyckaert and many others receive the support that the first generation, languishing between Flemish Expressionism and Surrealism, lacked.


Sergio Servellón (Director of the FeliXart Museum)


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Study no III