FRANS MASEREEL — world famous now for his personal woodcut style in novel form — also penned these documentary sketches of Belgian World War I refugees, published in the book La Grande Guerre par les artistes (1914-15), a book with war art by many more artists.
| Masereel, La Grande Guerre par les artistes, 1914-15|
“When I think back to that extraordinary period, it strikes me that Masereel was really the only man who day by day did something sensible, something good and to be thankful for.” — Herman Hesse on WWI
“I don’t at all see what is political about [my work]. Politics is a matter of factions — in Italian, combinazione, which is a lot prettier. But there are no ‘factions’ in my work. There is, I believe, great sincerity. It is a direct enough matter, consequently, which is not at all political. On the contrary, it is humanist.” — Frans Masereel
FRANS MASEREEL’s full name was Frans Laurent Wilhelmina Adolf Lodewijk Masereel (31 July 1889, Blankenberge, Belgium - 3 January 1972, Avignon, France). As a Belgian Dutch-speaking Belgian, Masereel was raised in Blankenberge and Ghent in the province of East Flanders. He was the son of a textile manufacturer who struck it rich, but his father already died at 47 when he was 5. Frans grew up in wealthy circumstances with a second father who liberated his mind. He learned French and German and began studying art.
| Masereel by himself, 1909|
“Very early, as soon as I could hold a pencil, I began to draw. I travelled abroad and lived in various countries, in England, Germany, Tunisia, and later in Switzerland. In 1911, after my marriage, I settled in Paris.” — Frans Masereel, Nice, 1965
In 1907 he was advised to leave in his second year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. “You’ve learned nothing here. Go… Travel.” In 1910 he first took the train to Paris. Living there since 1911 with his wife, he befriended Parisian Henri Guilbeaux, director of L’Assiette au Beurre, in the Fall of 1912, just around the time the satirical weekly was closed down. The drawings Masereel offered L’Assiette au Beurre came too late.
| “Enough!” Masereel front page of les tablettes, 1916-19|
PARIS WOODCUTS. It was in Paris Masereel began making etchings and woodcuts. Filled with intense horror by the war of 14-18 he followed Henri Guilbeaux to Geneva, Switzerland, at the time a meeting-place of “French, Russian and German pacifists, conscientious objectors, deserters and revolutionairies of many different nationalities, but chiefly French, Russian and German.” He met many anti-war militants. In 1915 he was a translator of letters for the International Red Cross there. Forty-eight of his earliest woodcuts were done in 1916-19 for the monthly les tablettes (a little paper he cofounded with anarchist French workman Jean Salives, whose penname was Claude Le Maguet).
| “Among accomplices.” Daily editorial cartoon by Masereel, brush-drawing on front page of La feuille, 1917-20|
BRUSH-DRAWING. Masereel’s now world famous personal woodcut style was almost immediately there, done in striking blacks and broad fields and lines. Similar Masereel visuals appeared on the front of the pacifist daily La feuille (subtitled: ‘bulletin quotidien de la nation,’ Geneva, 1917-20), executed as rough brush-drawings in Indian ink to beat the daily deadlines — most days he delivered them in time.
| “Cinema–Iron–Fire–Blood–Emotion.” Another brush-drawn editorial for La feuille, 1917-20|
Biographical data from Roger Avermaete, ‘Frans Masereel’ (1975).