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Frans Masereel (31 July 1889 – 3 January 1972) was a Flemish painter and graphic artist who worked mainly in France. He is known especially for his woodcuts. His greatest work is generally said to be the wordless novel Mon Livre d'Heures (Passionate Journey). He completed over 20 other wordless novels in his career. Masereel's woodcuts strongly influenced the work of Lynd Ward and later graphic artists such as Clifford Harper and Eric Drooker. There is a Frans Masereel Centre (Frans Masereel Centrum for Graphix) in the village of Kasterlee in Belgium.
Frans Masereel was born in the Belgian Blankenberge on 31 July 1889. He moved to Ghent in 1896, where he began to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in the class of Jean Delvin at the age of 18. In 1909 he went on trips to England and Germany, which inspired him to create 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. His woodcut series, mainly of sociocritical content and of expressionistic form concept, made Masereel internationally known. Among these were the wordless novels 25 Images of a Man's Passion (1918), Passionate Journey (1919), The Sun (1919), The Idea (1920) and Story Without Words (1920). At that time Masereel also drew illustrations for famous works of world literature by Thomas Mann, Émile Zola and Stefan Zweig. 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. 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 worked for several years as a teacher at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (de) in Saarbrücken. In 1949 Masereel settled in Nice. In the following years until 1968 several series of woodcuts were published, which differ from his earlier "novels in picture'" in comprising variations of a subject instead of being a continuing narrative. He 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. The cultural organization Masereelfonds was named after him.
The American graphic artist Lynd Ward was greatly influenced by Masereel in creating his novels in woodcuts. A number of cartoonists have cited Masereel as an influence on the development of the graphic novel: Art Spiegelman cited Mon Livre d'Heures as an early influence on his Maus. Will Eisner cited Masereel as an influence on his work, as has scratchboard novelist Eric Drooker.
List of works
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- 25 Images of a Man's Passion (1918)
- Passionate Journey (1919)
- The Sun (1919)
- Story Without Words (1920)
- The Idea (1920)
- The City (1925)
- The Work (1928)
- The Siren (1932)
- From Black to White (1939)
- Route des hommes (1964)
- Davide Di Maio: I romanzi per immagini di Masereel, in «Wuz», n. 1, gennaio-febbraio 2005, pp. 34–43.
- Kaplan, Arie (2008). From Kraków to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books. Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 978-0-8276-0843-6.
- Frans Masereel Foundation site (German)
- International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Nebulous Cargo - an observant walk through modern ruins
- Frans Masereel Centre, Artist in Residence - Belgium
- Politische Zeichnungen on the Internet Archive