Les XX  

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Les XX was a group of twenty Belgian painters, designers and sculptors, formed in 1883 by the Brussels lawyer, publisher, and entrepreneur Octave Maus. For ten years, they held an annual exhibition of their art; each year 20 other international artists were also invited to participate in their exhibition. Painters invited include Camille Pissarro (1887, 1889, 1891), Claude Monet (1886, 1889), Georges Seurat (1887, 1889, 1891, 1892), Paul Gauguin (1889, 1891), Paul Cézanne (1890), and Vincent van Gogh (1890, 1891 retrospective).

Les XX was in some ways a successor to another group, L'Essor. The rejection of Ensor's The Oyster Eater in 1883 by L'Essor Salon, following the earlier rejection by the Antwerp Salon, was one of the events that led to the formation of Les XX.

In 1893, the society of Les XX was transformed into "La Libre Esthétique".


Eleven Founding Members

Nine Invited Members

Twelve Later Invited Members

Others Associated with Les XX




Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme


Cesar Franck, Vincent d'Indy, Gabriel Faure, Ernest Chausson, Eugene Ysaye (violinist)

Belgian exhibition society. It was founded on 28 October 1883 in Brussels and held annual shows there between 1884 and 1893. No president or governing committee. The group was formed by 11 artists dissatisfied with the conservative policies of the organization L’Essor and the official academic Salon. L'Essor ('Soaring') was set up also in opposition to the Salon, but with a strong bureaucratic element of twenty Essorians comprising a governing committe. Octave Maus (lawyer, journalist, art critic) acted as the secretary of Les XX, which was free of stifling regualtions. He was nicknamed Joyeux by the musician Alberic Magnard. The extent of governing was done by a rotating committee of three which organized the exhibitions. Painters played key roles in hanging their works. In addition to the twenty members, twenty international invitees would also exhibit. Octave Maus, Edmond Picard and Emile Verhaeren (Belgian poet) were the driving force of the associated review, L'Art Moderne. (Created in 1881) There was a close tie between art and literature among the Les XX artists as is usually the case among Symbolist painters.

The Annual Exhibitions of Les XX


The first of ten annual exhibitions was held on February 2 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Whistler sent Maus an illustration for the catalogue to this opening exhibition. One of the stipulations was that twenty artists, both Belgian and foreign, would be invited each year to exhibit with the founding members of Les XX. In the first year's show the foreign invitees included Auguste Rodin, John Singer Sargent, Max Liebermann, Whistler and William Merritt Chase. Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson and Gabriel Fauré gave concerts, and lectures where given by Stéphane Mallarmé, Théodore de Wyzewa and Paul Verlaine.

Whistler exhibited four paintings: Symphony in White, No. 3, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, and a number of his Venice etchings.

Pantazis died before the opening and shortly after Lambeaux and Verhaert resigned, disconcerted by the progressive spirit allied to the group.


Whistler exhibited Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate and in 1888 Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket, mistaken by Maus for a portrait of Lady A. Campbell. Whistler and Maus were in correspondence during this time. In his letters Maus reverently referred to Whistler as 'mon cher Maître'. He wrote to a friend in November 1886, 'As for Whistler, my dear friend, you know that I admire the artist, and that I am very fond of the man.' However, he objected to Whistler's admission to the the Société des XX, on the grounds that 'he is a foreigner and lives abroad'

Monet and Renoir exhibit.

May: Verhaeren in Paris for publication for poems, Les Moines.


Pissarro Morisot and Seurat exhibit (Monet and Renoir??) Seurat and Signac present.

Conservative artists Lambeaux, Verhaert, Verstraete, Simons, Delvin and Vanaise had fled from Les XX, some under direct pressure from Maus and Picard.


Octave Maus' essay "Painting and the search for light" accompanies the catalogue.

Whistler shown.

Pissarro Morisot and Seurat (Monet and Renoir??) as well as new comers Caillebotte, Cross, Lautrec, Dubois-Pillet and Signac exhibit. 1889

George Minne joins Les XX


Xavier Mellery (intimisme) showed seven drawings, "the inner life of things".


French posters and book illustrations by Walter Crane shown for first time. Finch's first attempts at ceramics. Three vases and a statue by invitee Paul Gauguin.


Jean Delville was the leader of the schism which broke out the year of the first Rose+Croix exhibition. 1893

Maus proposed that Les XX should be dissolved. In the following year he founded Libre Esthétique, but World War I brought it to an end.



  • Les XX, Bruxelles. Catalogue des dix expositions annuelles. Centre international pour l'étude de XIXe siècle, Bruxelles 1981 (Reprint, no ISBN!)

Secondary Sources

  • Autour de 1900: L'Art Belge (1884-1918). London exhibition catalouge published by The Arts Council 1965.
  • Impressionism to Symbolism The Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900. Royal Academy of Arts, London 7 July - 2 October 1994. Edited by MaryAnne Stevens with Robert Hoozee.
  • Octave Maus, L’Espagne des artistes (Brussels, 1887)
  • O. Maus, Souvenirs d’un Wagnériste: Le Théâtre de Bayreuth (Brussels, 1888)
  • O. Maus, Les Préludes: Impressions d’adolescence (Brussels, 1921)

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