From a young age, he worked in his father's painting and decorating business and later studied at the "Gentse Nijverheidschool" (Ghent Industrial School). In 1891 or 1892, he came into contact with Emile Claus, who encouraged his artistic inclinations. In 1900, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Antwerp), where his teachers were Eugène Joors and Frans Van Leemputten (1850-1914), but he never completed his studies. It was about this time that he became lifelong friends with the author Stijn Streuvels.
In 1909, he married and settled near Waregem.
In 1902, he debuted at the Sint-Lucasgilde in Kortrijk and began to exhibit more widely. He spent time in Meetjesland, painting landscapes. From 1905, he participated in the exhibitions of Vie et Lumière, a luminist group, along with Claus, James Ensor and Jenny Montigny.
At the outbreak of World War I, he fled to the Netherlands, although he returned in 1915 and moved about as the war dictated. His home and studio were destroyed in 1918 and he ended up living with a forester near Brakel. After the armistice, he painted scenes of the devastation at the front, then settled in Wakken the following year.
He again began to exhibit extensively, including shows at the Paris Salon and the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. During this period, his colors became darker and the contrasts harsher, approaching expressionism. In 1926, he built his ideal home-studio, the "Zonnehuys" (Sun House), in Zulte. Several taverns in the area claim to have frescoes that he painted. A square in Olsene (a district of Zulte) was named after him in 1999.
- Willem G. Flippo, Lexicon of the Belgian Romantic Painters, Antwerp, International Art Press, 1981
- Serge Goyens de Heusch, L’impressionisme et le fauvisme en Belgique, Antwerp, Fonds Mercator, 1988 ISBN 90-615-3420-8
- Johan De Smet, Het luminisme voorbij. De jaren twintig in het oeuvre van Modest Huys, in: Bulletin of the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, 1-4, 1994-1995
- Johan De Smet and Veerle van Doorne, Modest Huys 1874-1932, exhibition catalog, Museum van Deinze en de Leiestreek, Deinze, 10-5-12 1999
- Paul Piron, De Belgische beeldende kunstenaars uit de 19de en 20ste eeuw, Brussels, Art in Belgium, 1999, 2 vols. ISBN 90-7667-601-1
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