A beautiful book about Jozef Peeters, pioneer of abstract art in Flanders

What Theo van Doesburg – whose biography was recently discussed here – was to the development of Dutch abstract art, Jozef Peeters (1895-1960) was to Flemish. Art historian Peter JH Pauwels not only produced a standard work in two volumes, but also curated a fascinating exhibition on Antwerp’s avant-garde.

Pauwels has previously published monumental monographs on Marthe Donas and Jules Schmalzigaug, two other Antwerp-born avant-garde artists. The publishers made this biography/reference work a beautiful edition, it’s just a shame that an index is missing.

Short career

After his education at the academy in Antwerp, Jozef Peeters quickly became fascinated by theosophy and the art ideas of Wassily Kandinsky. The influences of this are clearly present in his early still figurative work. Foreign examples, such as the Italian Futurists and the German Expressionists, drove him slowly but surely towards abstraction. A development that was completed in 1920 and made Peeters one of the pioneers of the Flemish avant-garde.

Due to his wife’s serious illness, at the end of 1926 Peeters was forced to become a householder and leave art for what it was. The man and his work were almost forgotten. It was only some thirty years later, towards the end of his life, that his work was rediscovered, among others by the new abstracts of the group G58. That group included, among others, Paul Van Hoeydonck and Dan Van Severen.

Circle modern art

The focus of Pauwels’ two-part, richly illustrated study is on Peeters’ impressive artistic network. It all started with the re-established art circle Doe Stil Voort in activist circles, which organized a series of exhibitions during the First World War. After the war, Peeters Kring started Modern Art together with the most modern of his painting friends. Edmond Van Dooren, Jan Cockx and Jos Léonard were among the first members. Peeters organized lectures and conferences with Kringen, to which he also made contacts with alien spirits. He corresponded with or visited, among others, the leader of the Futurists, FT Marinetti; the leader of De Stijl, Theo van Doesburg; Herwarth Walden Van There Storm and Alexander Archipenko of La section d’or.

Thanks to his network, which has been expanded in a short time, Peeters was able to regularly exhibit abroad, although it rarely led to sales. Perhaps more important was the opposite movement: foreign artists who came to lecture in Antwerp, such as Theo van Doesburg. At the exhibitions in Kringen, the Flemish public could become acquainted with artists such as Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters and Giacomo Balla.


Of course, a little avant-garde cannot do without its own magazine. That was the case with Jozef Peeters Overview, a magazine founded by Michel Seuphor and Geert Pynenburg as a distinctly pro-Flemish art magazine. After Peeters replaced Pynenburg in the editorial office, it remained Overview has become one of the most notable European avant-garde magazines thanks to its network.

Each number got one fully another cover designed by an avant-garde artist. Sheet as There Storm or Lumiere also had different covers for each issue, but always within a distinctive template, whereby the title’s typography, binding, etc. remained the same. Besides Peeters himself Overview covers by, among others, Karel Maes, Victor Servranckx, Carel Willink, László Moholy-Nagy and Robert Delaunay. It makes each song a work of art in itself. A single number Overviewwhich then cost 2 francs, today rarely changes hands for less than 2,000 euros.

FIBAC & studio apartment

Pauwels paints an excellent picture of Jozef Peeters’ great importance for Flemish abstract art. Although his work is underrepresented in Flemish public collections – such as those of the KMSKA – today there can no longer be any question of being misunderstood. Those who want to ascertain the quality of his and many of his contemporaries can visit the beautiful privately run museum FIBAC (until March 31).Philip Ingrid Belgian Art Center) in Berchem. Plus, you can still visit the artist’s unique, fully intact studio apartment on Antwerp’s De Gerlachekaai, whether it’s virtual or not. Do!

Jozef Peeters and the fight against the tingeltangel by Peter Pauwels is available on our webshop.

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