Art circles in Antwerp, around the end of the 19th century
PATRONAGE - Antwerp
BIOGRAPHY : FRANS FRANCK (named François Franck)
°17.05.1872 Antwerp - †23.03.1932 Ostend Frans 'François' Franck, (Joannes-Pieter-Franck), decorator and furniture maker, art patron, initiator of De Kapel, one of the most important godparents of Kunst van Heden (Contemporary Art). (François Franck is also used as a spelling, below further reported as 'Frans Franck'.)
The parents of Frans Franck were Alexander Franck and Philomena de Vos.
Frans Franck maried 08.07.1902 Anaïs (Anna - 1882-04.11.1927) and had two sons, Francis and Louis Jr.
Hij had two older brothers : Louis Franck (1868-1937) and Charles Franck (1870-1935)
Frans Franck was an outspoken liberal, who in the second half of the 19th century kept a wallpaper shop in the Kuipersstraat, close to the Vleeshuis. He expanded the parental painters' shop into a fully-fledged company, the city's first decoration company, which had 150 employees at its peak. The young Frans Franck studied at the Antwerp Athenaeum. At the Royal Academy, he qualified in drawing and decorating and showed a certain talent. In Paris he was subsequently apprenticed to decorators and carpenters. There he got acquainted with the theory of W. Morris and J. Ruskin, among others.
Around 1894 Frans Franck returned to Antwerp. He settled in the Everdijstraat and, together with his brother Charles (1870-1935) and in the wake of his father, set up a new business there. The Franck brothers' flourishing furniture and decoration shop was a household name in Antwerp at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, the upholstery shop par excellence for the richer bourgeoisie. The furniture designed by Franck was produced in a very limited edition (two or three pieces) and always had a factory number. Franck was assisted as a designer by Frans Bruylants from Mechelen and according to some sources the sculptor Ernest Wijnants of Mechelen also worked in the House Franck.
The reputation of the House of Franck can mainly be attributed to Frans' creative spirit, sharpness and talent. Moreover, he had a great power of persuasion. As a handy businessman, he was able on more than one occasion to persuade his customers to fully furnish their homes in the 'Franck style' (with silk wallpaper, Japanese lacquer and mother of pearl) or to purchase a number of exclusive furniture, which in turn led to an invoice, which - according to Franck - was always in proportion to the performance delivered. The following anecdote, recorded by Roger Avermaete, is, if not historically, typical: "Frans Franck, after having fully upholstered a newly built master house, suggested to the owner that he should be given another vault. To which Mr W..., who was very rich, would have replied with a smile: 'Once your bills will been paid, I would no longer need a vault"'.
Franck's house on the Everdijstraat and the Korte Gasthuisstraat had the appearance of a museum; sculptures, paintings, vases, glass, porcelain, furniture, fabrics, carpets, chinoiseries, etc. were curiously confronted with each other. As an intellectual, Franck was also in possession of a rich library.
The first trace of Frans Franck's broad cultural interest can be found at the Antwerp Athenaeum, where his older brother Louis had founded the circle 'Study'; François was a member of this circle, next to Emmanuel De Bom, L. Dens and later Charles Mertens, Richard Baseleer, Lodewijk Mortelmans, Lode Baekelmans, Jan Van Overloop and others; this circle initially met in the 'Stedelijke Kindertuin', on the Oudaan, then in the studio of the painter Niekerk in the Gildekamersstraat, and later in the Antwerp 'Koffiehuis' (Coffee House).
Frans Franck won the friendship of numerous artists from different disciplines, and gradually matured with him the plan to transform the former chapel of the godhouse Landtschot on the Falconrui, which he rented from the PCSW (Public Centre for Social Welfare), and used as a storage place for furniture, into a small art temple. Together with E. De Bom, J. Van Overloop, his brothers Charles and Louis Franck, R. Baseleer, Ch. Mertens, W. Vaes and others were thus at the basis of the association 'De Kapel', which was mainly involved in the organisation of lectures. Frans Franck also formed the basis of the 'Society of New Concerts' (1903-1936), which, together with Lodewijk Mortelmans, provided the music scene in Antwerp with wonderful moments.
In 1903, through Emma Lambotte, the important first meeting between James Ensor and Frans Franck also took place in Ostend. During the same year Franck stated that Ensor was the largest painter since Rubens.
Frans Franck remained one of the most important patrons of James Ensor until his death in 1932.
The spring of the year 1905 can be considered an important moment in the history of Antwerp art and patronage. Then, under the impetus of Frans Franck and with the support of very wealthy Antwerp citizens, the association 'Contemporary Art' was founded.
He got his wealthy friends Grisar, Kreglinger, Fester, and Serigiers so far to collect 100.000 Bfr.
The founding meeting of this new association took place on March 1, 1905, at the home of Louis Franck. Although Frans Franck was only a member of the association, it was mainly his that was the driving force. He was the promoter of the whole project, even though wise guys claimed (in 1920) that 'Contemporary Art' had its origins in 'the German colony, stimulated and fertilized by a great Antwerp furniture maker and paintings seller'.
Frans Franck also played an important role in the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. With his great influence on his wealthy friends, he encouraged them not only to buy works by contemporary artists, but also to contribute to the fund 'The Friends of Modern Art' (founded in 1925). This fund offered the museum the opportunity to acquire a considerable collection of modern paintings. It was a contribution that still characterises the museum's current collection of modern painting to a fairly large extent.
The importance of 'The Friends of Modern Art' mainly consisted of the fact that they put an end to the idea once and for all that only works by deceased artists were eligible for the museum collection. By Royal Decree of 28 August 1921, Franck was appointed member of the Museum's Board of Directors, where he represented the Government. In the same year he announced a donation in this Board, consisting of eight paintings by Ensor (donated by the 'Museum Friends', amongst the brothers Franck).
Frans Franck also had an influence on the Royal Museum's acquisition policy (and in fact its general policy), which should not be underestimated. Many works from the modern art department - and certainly not the least - would never have been acquired or donated without the influence of Frans Franck. Under Franck's regime, for example, no fewer than nine paintings of Vogels found their way to the museum.
In 1927, Franck's wife Anaïs (Anna) Franck died.
Oscar Jespers made a sculpture, a bronze angel, for the family tomb on the Schoonselhof. (picture left)
To commemorate the death of his wife, Franck donated the painting 'The Storm' by E. Laermans to the museum in the same year.
At the 1930 Antwerp World Exhibition, Frans Franck's contribution was equally important. He was one of the initiators of the 'Contemporary Art' pavilion - after all, the association celebrated its 25th anniversary - and no fewer than twelve exhibitions took place in this pavilion. Frans Franck was also one of the promoters of 'Old-Belgium', the leisure park of this Expo.
On 11 May 1930, on the occasion of the anniversary of 'Contemporary Art', Franck donated a remarkable series of works of art (16 marvellous paintings) to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. His brother Charles Franck added nine more works from his collection to it. This gift was accompanied by a solemn reception of the Franck brothers at the Town Hall (3rd January 1931) and the inauguration of a Franck room in the museum (4th January 1937). In 1930-31 Franck also made sure that the Antwerp museum had one of the first casts of 'Balzac', the well-known statue of Auguste Rodin, in its possession.
'François Franck - by Mertens Charles' - KMSKA
However, the rich life of the patron knew an abrupt and unfortunate end (March 23rd 1932). During a walk with his grandchildren in the dunes, he stepped on the edge of a dune and ended up with his head on the brickwork of a slope.
The solemn funeral took place on March 26, 1932, under a mass procession. Frans Franck's remains were buried in the burial cellar, where his wife was already resting, in the urban cemetery of the Schoonselhof.
The Salon of 'Contemporary Art' of 1932 was entirely dedicated to the death of Franck; the intention was to show works by friends of patronage. A.H. Cornette considered Franck's significance for the association.
°11.05.1870 Antwerpen - †11.01.1935 Antwerpen Charles Franck was the founder of the 'Friends of Modern Art' and art collector.
He was buried at the Schoonselhof in Antwerp.
Antwerpen, Sanderusstraat 48. A civil house in neotraditional style, after a design by the engineer-architect Walter Van Kuyck from 1908. The commissioner Charles Franck, husband of Hélène Possemiers (1879-1964), was a brother-in-law of Van Kuyck. With his younger brother Frans Franck (Antwerp, 1872-Oostende, 1932), partner in the furniture and decoration company Franck frères, Charles Franck concentrated on the daily management of the company, which was founded by their father Alexander Franck (1839-1905). Since 1894, located on the Korte Gasthuisstraat, Franck frères had grown into one of the most important 'ensembliers' (dresser) in Antwerp before the First World War and during the inter-war period, with 150 employees at its peak. The company focused on luxurious interiors and exclusive limited edition furniture intended for the wealthy bourgeoisie. Like his brothers Frans and the lawyer, liberal politician and governor of the National Bank Louis Franck (Antwerp, 1869 - Wijnegem, 1937), Charles Franck was a collector and promoter of modern art, and patron of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In 1905 he was one of the founders of the artists' association 'Kunst van Heden'.
The Charles Franck house is part of Walter Van Kuyck's early work. In 1921 and 1929-1930, Van Kuyck built another residential and commercial complex for Charles and Frans Franck on the corner of Lombardvest and Korte Gasthuisstraat.
With a façade width of two bays, the row house comprises three floors under a combined limp saddle (slates) and flat roof. The molded façade has a red brick masonry in cross with wrought iron ornamental anchors, use of white natural stone for the façade, bacon coats, water frames, window frames, neg blocks, an archivolt, scaffolding holes, collar, top stones and top pieces, on a profiled blue brick plinth. Guided by a decorative frame, a wooden upstand responds to an axial design, crowned by a stepped, two-part roof window with double cross frame, overangular finials on corbels and ornamental balls as masterpieces. The emphasis is on the superstructure, which is successively marked by a three-sided wooden bay window with slate roof and a circular arched triple light, contained in a pointed savings with head blocks and profiled archivolt. The portal and a triple-light with stretched lintel on corbels break through the printed façade. A broken wooden cornice on modillions forms the façade finish. The wooden carpentry of the entrance door with its ornamental ironwork and the windows with small rocks in the top light have been preserved in their entirety.
The floor plan corresponds to the typology of the piano nobile dwelling, which is presumably divided over its entire width by the centrally located stairwell with overhead light. Service rooms such as the kitchen take in the low ground floor, receive the piano nobile rooms, and private rooms leave the upper floors.
BIOGRAPHY : LOUIS FRANCK
°28.10.1869 Antwerp - †31.12.1937 Wijnegem
As a young man of fourteen, who succeeds in finding a publisher for his literary works? He must have been very enterprising, the young Louis Franck. In any case, in 1883, Jan Bouchery published his study 'Jan Van Beers' in Antwerp, followed by 'Pol de Mont' in 1884, in Verviers in French.
In 1886 Franck studied law at the Brussels university. He established a study circle to which Emile Vandervelde, Adolphe Max and Jules Bordet connected. In 1890 he settled in Antwerp as a lawyer. The young academic Franck demonstrates an intense interest in the current socio-economic and general social situation and formulates his views on this in 'L'évolution morale et la crise pessimiste' (1893) and 'Le minimum de salaire (1894). He writes chronicles in 'L'Art Moderne', even participates in 'Van Nu en Straks' and takes part in the socially critical debates in 'De Kapel'. The fact that in 1903 he helped to establish the 'Society of New Concerts', which grew out of the De Kapel, is a logical extension of this development. He also helps with the foundation of 'Contemporary Art', whose founding act was supposed to have been drawn up at his home on March 1, 1905.
Son Louis inherited his father's business and artistic instinct. He was the head of the Montaigne bank in London, and invested in canvases by Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and a whole series of Ensors, including "L'entrée du Christ à Bruxelles", which hung in the Antwerp museum until the 1970s. Out of irritation, because Antwerp was not prepared to pay an acceptable price for its loan, Louis Franck sold the colossal Ensor to the Getry Museum in Los Angeles for almost 9 million euros. Some wise guys claimed that Louis Franck was only promised a baron title for Ensor's masterpiece. The rest of his collection, including Van Gogh, moved to the Gianadda Foundation in the Swiss town of Martigny. Speaking of a missed opportunity! Louis was named after his uncle Louis and died at the age of 80 at the end of the 1980s.
On a threefold level - politician, flamingante and lawyer - Franck will gain fame. When he became a liberal representative of the people in 1906, following on from Jan Van Rijswijck, an era began in which the general right to vote, the 8-hour day, the certified minimum wage, trade union freedom and the humiliation of Ghent University dominated the political debates. The Franck-Segers Act of 1910 marks an important step towards the complete humanisation of secondary education. In 1913, Van Cauwelaert, Franck and Huysmans formed a cross-party front for the humanisation of education as a whole. When Huysmans calls out: We are three crowing cocks! - a characterisation that becomes a household name in the Flemish movement, he probably alludes to the title emblem of Alvoorder, a leaf that has been circulating in the middle of the Chapel since 1900.
During the First World War Franck, like Vermeylen, manifests himself as an anti-activist. After the war he managed the important Ministry of Colonies (1918-1925). He founded the Antwerp Colonial University of Applied Sciences and is considered to be an authority in the field of international maritime law. In parliament, he remains the most important liberal Flemish, but from the government bench, he is less assertive as such. From 1926 until the eve of his death, Louis Franck held the office of Governor of the National Bank.
BIOGRAPHY : HENRI FESTER
°24.07.1849 Antwerpen - †18.09.1939 Antwerpen Henri Fester is one of the most important godfathers of 'Art van Heden', besides the brothers Frans and Charles Franck, he was therefore an important promoter and patron of music and visual arts, and a prominent member of the German colony in Antwerp. His father Jules Fester had settled from Frankfurt in Antwerp in 1840.
The wealthy residents of the city who actually cooperate in the establishment of 'Contemporary Art' also include owners of trading companies and shipping companies, bankers and insurers. All of them bring a number of supporting members from their area with them.
Henri Fester is a businessman of German origin. He studied in his native city in Antwerp and Switzerland. After his father's death he ended up in his company. In 1874, together with Adolf Mund, he founded the insurance company 'Mund & Fester', located on the Groenplaats. Their sons, Ernest Mund and Robert Fester, later also members of 'Contemporary Art', also joined the company. The activities are expanding to such an extent that in 1914 the company already has branches in ten world cities: London, Liverpool, New York, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Hamburg, ...
Henri Fester was co-founder of the 'Société de Musique', where Peter Benoit has conducted. On 31 October 1903, with the support of his many friends, he founded the 'Society of New Concerts', for which he remained chairman for more than thirty years. Fester is an integral part of the musical life in Antwerp: he is chairman (government commissioner) of the supervisory committee of the Royal Flemish Conservatoire, of the Bach association and of the association of performing artists.
The successful start of the 'Society of New Concerts' (1903-1936) and of 'Contemporary Art' (1905-1955) is infectious and gives rise to a third initiative in the cultural field: the 'Bestendige Dotatiefonds' (Continual Grant Fund) for the City Library and for the 'Museum Plantin-Moretus'. It is an initiative of the Chief Librarian F. Gittens (camped with an inadequate budget), Chief Curator Max Rooses and W. von Mallinckrodt, the chairman of the fund, who will soon be succeeded in this function by... Henri Fester.
At 'Contemporary Art' Henri Fester is a continuous working member from its foundation in 1905 until his death in 1939. One not inconsiderable facet of 'Contemporary Art' is its constant concern for the enrichment of the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts. To this end, the association of the 'Friends of Modern Art' was established in 1925 on the basis of 'Contemporary Art' and following the example of what the company 'Artibus Patriae' (with Henri Fester as vice-president) is performing for the old art. Here, too, Henri Fester takes the lead. Dozens will now find their way to the Museum through the 'Friends of Modern Art'.
Henri Fester has undoubtedly exerted a great deal of influence within many cultural institutions of the Scheldt city. Because of his diverse and numerous administrative functions and his excellent relations with the wealthy bourgeoisie, he was a connective sign within the art world, a provider of funds, a wise counsellor and a creator of stability.
The German colony of Antwerp in the 19th century - Castle of Fester (The Kunsthumaniora)
Halfway through the 19th century there was a villa between the Karel Oomsstraat and the Korte Lozanastraat. This district, around the 'Warande' (the actual King Albert Park), developed into an exclusive residential area in the second half of the 19th century, especially when, around the turn of the century, some of the most prominent German-Antwerp families settled there: Osterrieth, Kreglinger, Fuhrmann, Von der Becke…
Henri Fester joined them, who had the existing building rebuilt in several phases between 1892 and 1910 and extended to the actual Fester Castle (neo-Flemish Renaissance style).
The Fester Castle is one of the most important realisations of the architect Henri Thielens, who was active in Antwerp between 1880 and 1914, mainly as a designer of classical civilian houses. His first commissions for Henri Fester were in 1892 the extension of the existing manor house with a salon and orangery at the back, and in 1899 the installation of the garden gate with gates. The most important intervention consisted of the complete reconstruction of the façade front in 1900, accompanied by a major renovation and redesign of the interior such as the new hallway and stairwell.
In 1902, an existing annexe was converted into stables and a depot, and in 1908 a small annexe with bathrooms was added to one of the side or rear façades. The 1910 design for the new winter garden and the music salon, which were built against the middle part of the back façade, can be attributed to architect Joseph Hertogs.
This beautiful, overarching roundabout made of iron and glass, resting on an open colonnade, was demolished in 1929. In 1911, Fester had Hertogs design two more mansions in the Van Putlei, which can still be admired there.
Supplement by Alex Elaut :
The Fester castle is a renovation of the castle that Nicaise De Keyser had built here. The fences along the street side are still largely from J. Schadde from De Keyser's time. To the right of the castle stood the imposing villa of Mrs. van Eersel, married to the painter Karel Ooms.
Shortly after its completion, the building was destroyed by shelling from the German armies (8-9 October 1914). The Fester family had it rebuilt.
In the period after WW II, the building housed the 'Rijksinternaat voor Schipperskinderen' or the 'Schippersschool', and from 1984 onwards the 'Rijksinstituut voor Kunstsecundair Onderwijs', today the campus for visual and audiovisual art, drama and music of the 'Kunsthumaniora'.