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- IN THE SPOTLIGHT -

Frans Masereel

Frans Masereel, a pioneering Belgian artist, is celebrated for his profound contributions to the art of woodcut novels and printmaking. Born in July 1889, in the Flemish town of Blankenberge, Masereel began his formal training at the Stedelijk Ambachtsschool voor Jongelingen, while attending evening lectures at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. During these years, he embarked on several formative journeys across Europe and even to Tunisia.

By the end of 1911, Masereel had relocated to Paris. In the French capital he became acquainted with several writers, among which Stefan Zweig, with whom he developed a strong friendship. In 1912 and 1913, Masereel successfully participated in the Salon des indépendants. It was during these years in Paris that Masereel familiarized himself with the art of woodblock engraving, while studying Medieval engravers such as Albrecht Dürer.

With the start of the First World War in 1914, Masereel fled the horrors of mass destruction and went to Geneva. His profoundly pacifist beliefs prohibited him from joining the Belgian army. In Geneva, he first started working as an illustrator. Most notably, however, Masereel used his art to convey his pacifist beliefs through multiple newspapers and magazines. Tellingly, his friend Zweig wrote about him: 'There was Frans Masereel, who, with his woodcuts, carved out a lasting visual memorial of war before our eyes, depicting the horrors of war. These unforgettable black and white prints, in their intensity and anger, do not fall short even when compared to Goya's The Disasters of War. Day and night, this stalwart man tirelessly carved new figures and scenes from the silent wood.'
The wooden printing blocks he made for the series Debout les morts. Résurrection infernale (1917) was acknowledged in 2014 as 'masterpiece' by the Flemish minister of Culture.

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During his Swiss years, in 1918, Masereel published his first “wordless novel,” titled 25 Images de La Passion d'un Homme, consisting solely of images. This publication meant his breakthrough as an artist. His second wordless novel, Mon livre d'heures, which was published the year after, became an even grander success and was distributed internationally.

After returning to Paris in 1922, Masereel was highly productive for a couple of years. His artistic repertoire extended beyond printmaking. He has illustrated literary works from Thomas Mann, Émile Zola, Stefan Zweig, and others. Additionally, he expanded his creative vision to the realms of posters, magazines, paintings, and murals. Through his art, Masereel passionately advocated for social justice and pacifism, elevating him to a prominent position within the cultural and political spheres of his era. His oeuvre was distinguished by its bold lines, striking contrasts, and emotive imagery, deftly conveying intricate themes with a remarkable simplicity that resonated deeply with audiences.

The rise of the Nazis resulted in a ban of his work in Germany. Starting from September 1939, when the Second World War began with Nazi Germany, Masereel actively participated in French efforts against Nazi propaganda by producing anti-Nazi pamphlets. He also engaged in aiding German refugees and migrants while in the French capital. By June 1940, as the threat of German occupation loomed over Paris, he fled to southern France for safety, where he lived until his death in 1972. He was buried in his hometown of Ghent.

Throughout his life, Masereel's works were exhibited internationally, earning him recognition for his artistic achievements. His dedication to using art as a vehicle for social commentary, particularly in response to the horrors of war, secured his place as one of the most influential figures in the history of printmaking and visual storytelling.

Today, the legacy of Frans Masereel is preserved through the Frans Masereel Foundation, dedicated to safeguarding his memory and sharing his works with future generations. Additionally, the Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium serves as a dynamic contemporary art hub, fostering an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration among artists and curators. Named in honor of Masereel, it pays tribute to his profound impact on Belgian art history and his global fame for his commitment to social criticism and pacifism. Only recently, in 2022, fifty years after Masereel's death, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent dedicated a new exhibition to his work and life, Frans Masereel in words and images, which comprised over 700 of his works.

UP FOR AUCTION


Window displays (1961) (40x)

The complete suite of 40 woodblocks All, but one, signed with monogram (in mirror image) 40 woodblocks, each 13 x 11 cm / 82 x 109.5 cm (framed) Provenance: - Galerij Jos Beckers, Ghent - Private collection, the Netherlands Literature : - F. Masereel, Etalages. Quarante bois gravés, Pierre Vorms, Belvès/Dordogne, 1961 - R. Avermaete, Frans Masereel; bibliography [by] ...


Pour ta Fête (1958)

Signed with monogram and dated 1958 (in mirror image) lower left Woodblock, 55 x 40 cm / 59.5 x 44.4 cm (framed) Provenance: - Galerij Jos Beckers, Ghent - Private collection, the Netherlands Literature: - R. Avermaete, Frans Masereel ; bibliography [by] Pierre Vorms and Hanns-Conon von der Gabelentz, De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 1975, bibl. D, p. 280, ...


Le Chat noir (1960)

Signed with monogram and dated 1960 (in mirror image) lower left Woodblock, 39.9 x 55 cm / 44.3 x 59.5 cm (framed) Provenance: - Galerij Jos Beckers, Ghent - Private collection, the Netherlands Literature: - R. Avermaete, Frans Masereel ; bibliography [by] Pierre Vorms and Hanns-Conon von der Gabelentz, De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 1975, bibl. D, p. 280, ...


La Nuit et ses Filles (1959) (11x)

- La Nuit - Le Destin - Les Tènebres - La Crainte - Les Songes - Le Sommeil - La Fraude - Le Travail - La Misère - La Vieillesse - La Mort (La Douleur not part of the present lot) Each woodblock signed with monogram and titled (in mirror image) Each woodblock 24.9 x 17.9 cm / 29.1 x 22.5 cm (framed) Provenance: - ...