The school of Laethem-Saint-Martin was founded in the last years of the nineteenth century, when Valerius de Saedeler settled there, a few miles from Ghent, in a bend of the River Lys. The exceptional beauty of this district began to attract a number of Flemish artists, who formed a group around Saedeler -Gustave van de Woestyne, Alfred Servaes and the sculptor Georges Minne, among them. Laethem had already known an extremely gifted primitive painter named van den Abeele, a local government employee who at the age of forty had begun to paint modest but penetrating works inspired by local scenes and customs. Valerius de Saedeler, a great admirer of Breughel and the Flemish Primitives, particularly excelled in the treatment of snow seen through the black branches of dead trees. Servaes united Flemish realism with such personal power and originality that the clergy banned his religiously inspired works from the churches, including a Stations of the Cross, which had caused a scandal.
A few years later a second group of painters formed at Laethem, including Albert Saverys, Constant Permeke, Gustave and Leon de Smet, Fritz van den Berghe, Edgar Gevaert, Hubert Malfait, Jules de Sutter, Piet Lippens, and several others (vide Permeke, Smet). The artists met on familiar terms in the modest tavern they W chosen as their meeting-place. They were rather strongly opposed to the idea of Impressionism. Their villagers and peasant types were painted in a kind of healthy expressionism in a clearly Flemish tradition. They sought to express a full sense of life. A certain joie de vivre, a robustness of form, transfigured a reality which was no longer seen in the manner laid down by the old academic canons. The Laethem-Saint-Martin school was violently attacked by the Academy. But its final success confirmed its interest and its value, and the influence it has had on Belgian painting in general has been its surest justification.