The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

Octave Maus, 1856-1919

Nationality: Belgian
Date of Birth: 1856.06.12
Place of Birth: Brussels
Date of Death: 1919.11.26
Place of Death: Brussels


Octave Maus was an advocate, writer and art critic.


As an advocate, Maus dealt primarily with the legal problems of artists and writers, working alongside the lawyer and writer Edmond Picard. In 1881 the two men co-founded the weekly avant-garde periodical Art moderne along with Victor Arnould and Eugène Robert. Maus became the journal's director.

In 1884 Maus was elected the secretary of Les XX, a society founded on 28 October 1883 by eleven artists dissatisfied with the official academic Salon and with the conservative policies of the organization L’Essor. The group included artists such as Paul Dubois, James Ensor and Fernand Khnopff, who invited nine others to join them. Maus was made responsible for publicity and for organising the annual exhibitions. The first exhibition opened on 2 February 1884 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Whistler sent Maus an illustration for the catalogue to this opening exhibition, Paintings for exhibition (M.910). Maus also arranged for lectures and musical concerts to be held during the exhibitions. Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson and Gabriel Fauré gave concerts, and lectures where given by Stéphane Mallarmé, Théodore de Wyzewa and Paul Verlaine.

Maus' friend Picard took it upon himself to defend Les XX against the critics. However, his vehement attacks against the art establishment caused some members of the society to resign. New members included Auguste Rodin, Félicien Rops, Paul Signac, Jan Toorop and Henry Van de Velde. Maus invited oustiders to exhibit with the group, artists including William Stott, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Odilon Redon, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Walter Crane and Whistler.

In 1884 Whistler exhibited four paintings (Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61), Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (YMSM 103), Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (YMSM 129) and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder (YMSM 203)) and a number of his Venice etchings with Les XX. In 1886 he exhibited Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate (YMSM 315) and in 1888 Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket (YMSM 181), 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' (#05488).

In 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.


Maus, Octave, L’Espagne des artistes, Brussels, 1887; Maus, O., Souvenirs d’un Wagnériste: Le Théâtre de Bayreuth, Brussels, 1888; Maus, O., Les Préludes: Impressions d’adolescence, Brussels, 1921.

Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; 'Octave Maus', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 26 June 2002).