FRANS MASEREEL

Sociaal bewogen woodengraver

1889

Born in Blankenberge. Grows up in Gent. Studies cello and singing at the conservatory. Follows a typography course and enrols at the art academy.

Is influenced by his drawing teacher Jean Delvin and by the caricatures in the French satirical magazine L’Assiette au Beurre (Steinlen, Vallotton, Grandjouan). Spends time with the painter and etcher Jules De Bruycker.

1911

After a study period in Tunisia he establishes himself as artiste-peintre in Paris: ‘I painted all day from morning to evening, out on the street, on a bench, I would draw where ever, without ever imagining showing the end result to anyone.’

1912

Meets the anarchistic publicist Henri Guilbeaux, who introduces him to the left intelligentsia. Publishes caricatures in Les Hommes du Jour. Starts to make woodcuts in the spirit of Félix Vallotton.

During the First World War Masareel blossoms as a pacifist. He illustrates pacifist magazines and makes anti-war albums of linoleum cuts. He befriends the militant French pacifist and Nobel prize winner Romain Rolland, with Stefan Zweig and Emile Verhaeren.

1918

Produces a series of wood cuts 25 Images de La Passion d’un Homme, an indictment against exploitation and violence.

1919

Picture book Mon livre d’heures, around 170 small woodcuts which look at the disgraceful state of social affairs.

The 1920s – Lives on a fifth floor in Montmartre. From a small back room he spies on people with binoculars to see what happens behind the windows of apartments. With 100 wood cuts in La Ville (1925) he portrays his vision of big city life.

Masereel said the following about wood cuts: ‘It is simple as only a few utensils are needed – gouger, burin or knife – and a block of wood. It is honest as one is unable to rework, embellish, cover-up, or conjure. Lastly, it is direct because it instantly fascinates the viewer with the interaction of black and white.’

Stefan Zweig about Masereel: ‘If everything should be destroyed – all books, monuments, photos and reports – and only the woodcuts which Masereel made over ten years remained, then one could reconstruct the contemporary world from them.’

1972

Dies in Avignon after having stayed in the South of France for years.