Inga Rossi-Schrimpf, ‘Turn of the century Belgian-German artistic exchange ignored’

Belgian-German artistic exchange in the decades before and during World War I has actually never been in the focus of research despite major and profound studies on the same topic in the field of literature. This lack of interest up to now could be still influenced by the great deception of Belgian cultural actors and intellectuals upon the German invasion in Belgium in 1914. Nevertheless, there has been rather recently some publications on this exchange in the interwar period. But very lively exchange or interest in each other can be found in the decades before and has to be understood as basis for later on. Thus, this exposé proposes a first insight in this matter by comparing German presence in and around the avant-garde circles of Les XX and La Libre Esthétique to Belgian participation to the Berlin Secession. Names that occur in Brussels are artists as Max Klinger, Friedrich von Uhde, Curt Herrmann, Bernhard Hoetger, Emil Nolde or Käthe Kollwitz and art critics as Julius Meier-Graefe or collectors as Harry Graf Kessler. At first glance, this presence theses passages did not leave permanent traces in Belgium and certainly not in Belgian collections. We should ask why? Max Klinger even studied shortly with the Belgian painter Emile Wauters and Curt Herrmann had for a short period a studio in Brussels. On the other hand, Belgian art works were present in most of modern private collections and museums acquired rather early works from Belgian contemporary artists as Théo Van Rysselberghe, Constantin Meunier and George Minne – just to name internationally known artists.

Belgian Art was interpreted from German critics often as belonging to the same (national) roots. But what was the Belgian view on German art, especially when the Germans did the breakthrough to modernity with expressionism which relies also an strong Belgian influences?

By the outbreak of the war, the Belgian writer Emile Verhaerens saw German high culture just as a sort of accident of a generally barbaric nation and certainly no common roots at all.

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