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Frans Masereel (31 July 1889 - 3 January 1972) was a Flemish painter and graphic artist who worked mainly in France, known especially for his woodcuts focused on political and social issues, such as war and capitalism. He completed over 40 wordless novels in his career, and among these, his greatest is generally said to be Passionate Journey.
Frans Masereel was born in the Belgian coastal town Blankenberge on 31 July 1889, and at the age of five, his father died. His mother moved the family to Ghent in 1896. She met and married a physician with strong Socialist convictions, and the family together regularly protested against the appalling working conditions of the Ghent textile workers.
At the age of 18 he began to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in the class of Jean Delvin. In 1909, he visited England and Germany, which inspired him to make his first etchings and woodcuts. In 1911 Masereel settled in Paris for four years and then emigrated to Switzerland, where he worked as a graphic artist for journals and magazines.
Masereel could not return to Belgium at the end of World War I because, being a pacifist, he had refused to serve in the Belgian army. Nonetheless, when a circle of friends in Antwerp interested in art and literature decided to found the magazine Lumière, Masereel was one of the artists invited to illustrate the text and the column headings. The magazine was first published in Antwerp in August 1919. It was an artistic and literary journal published in French. The magazine's title Lumière was a reference to the French magazine Clarté, which was published in Paris by Henri Barbusse. The principal artists who illustrated the text and the column headings in addition to Masereel himself were Jan Frans Cantré, Jozef Cantré, Henri van Straten, and Joris Minne. Together, they became known as 'De Vijf' or 'Les Cinq' ('The Five').Lumière was a key force in generating renewed interest in wood engraving in Belgium. The five artists in the 'De Vijf' group were instrumental in popularizing the art of wood, copper and linoleum engraving and introducing Expressionism in early 20th-century Belgium.
In 1921 Masereel returned to Paris, where he painted his famous street scenes, the Montmartre paintings. He lived for a time in Berlin, where his closest creative friend was George Grosz. After 1925 he lived near Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he painted predominantly coast areas, harbour views, and portraits of sailors and fishermen. During the 1930s his output declined. With the Fall of France to the Nazis in 1940 he fled from Paris and lived in several cities in Southern France.
At the end of World War II Masereel was able to resume his artistic work and produced woodcuts and paintings. After 1946 he taught at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar in Saarbrücken. In 1949 Masereel settled in Nice. Between 1949 and 1968, he published several series of woodcuts that differ from his earlier "novels in picture'" in comprising variations on a subject instead of a narrative. He had also designed decorations and costumes for numerous theatre productions. The artist was honoured in numerous exhibitions and became a member of several academies.
Frans Masereel died in Avignon in 1972 and was entombed in Ghent.
La révolte des machines, ou la Pensée Déchainée (The Revolt of Machines or the Mind Unbound, republished in 1947 as in Dutch as De opstand der machines, of Het losgebroken intellect) by Romain Rolland (1921) (Archive.org)