The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 3, 2016

January 3, 1972

Frans Masereel (July 31 1889 to January 3,1972) is an artist who needs an introduction. According to one source

Those who fade [from public attention] are not all charlatans and pretenders, and sometimes we are culturally poorer for their departure. Frans Masereel, the Belgian woodcut artist, is one of these whose departure we should mourn. Two of his woodcut books are being returned to print,...[but] they won’t restore him to the pantheon...

At the pinnacle of his popularity, in the 1920s and 30s, his books of prints received glowing forewords from Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. He illustrated several novels of his close friend Romain Rolland, who served as a kind of patron saint to the pacifist movement gathered in Switzerland, where Masereel spent the First World War (it was Masereel’s involvement with the pacifists that barred his return to Belgium for many years, and he spent most of his adult life in France and Germany). In Geneva, making brush-and-ink illustrations for the anti-war journal
La Feuille, Masereel developed the high-contrast visual style that was to serve him so well in his woodcuts. His art almost always derived its impetus from the social problems of his day: he returned again and again to scenes of workers’ strikes, mobilizing armies, and the industrial metropolitan maze, which is shown towering over its inhabitants both as a testament to human labor, and as an oppressive weight of smokestacks.

Much of the work is propagandistic in its impulses, but it has a clarity of design and an exuberance of execution that lifts the best examples far above the realm of disposable agitprop. When living in Berlin, Masereel’s closest artist friend was George Grosz. While both shared an indignation toward social cruelty and hypocrisy, and both made an attempt to bring art out of the museums and into the streets, it is hard to imagine two more opposed temperaments. Grosz’s genius was to distil his pessimism and misanthropy into a kind of visual poison. Masereel, for all the despair and tragedy in his work, was fundamentally an optimist about the human animal. Perhaps this was partly due to his eye for its staggering, kaleidoscopic variety. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, in the first monograph on the artist, claimed that if Masereel’s woodcuts were the only documents of his era to survive, the entire world could be reconstructed from them.

We have samples that attest to his art.

The City was a work Masereel published in Munich in 1925:  Here is a woodcut from this "wordless novel."

And after the war his artistic quality was not diminished. Here is his
"Le chat"  (1955).  The cat here is more iconic. than particular, in this sketch of the modern world but serves as a unifying summary.

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