Frans Mortelmans was born on the 1st of may 1865 as the eldest son in a family of six. He grew up in the parish of St. Paul in Antwerp.
Originally his father Karel Mortelmans, who had a printer's shop in Antwerp's Zirkstraat, wanted Frans to attend the Music Academy and bought him a piano. It was the second son, Lodewijk, who took over the piano and passed on his lessons at the drawing academy to Frans. That's what happened and Frans became a famous painter of flowers and Louis a famous composer.
Frans Mortelmans studied at the Antwerp Art Academy from 1876 to 1887 under Lucas Schaefels (1824-1885) and Charles Verlat (1876-1886) and at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts of Antwerp (NHISKA) from 1887 to 1891 under Albrecht De Vriendt (1887-1891). For some time he was also a pupil of Frans Van Leemputten. After an education of 15 years, he started a career as a painter.
Despite the versatility of his training, Frans Mortelmans specialised in painting highly decorative and harmonious compositions of flowers and still lifes, after founding his own studio in 1892. His style was very virtuoso and flattering, colourful, yet restrained and never loud. He was a very productive painter.
He lived in the Lamorinièrestraat in Antwerp.
His main period is just before and after the turn of the century. He was certainly one of the most talented painters of flowers and still lifes. His individuality was unmistakable (including chiaroscuro). Impressionism inspired the late Romantic, without denying the true representation of his subjects.
Frans Mortelmans also painted some portraits, interiors with figures and still lifes with vegetables, seafood, mushrooms, fruit, cheese or ham. The floral arrangements take the upper hand numerically. Within this category the representations of rose bouquets are the most numerous.
The rose paintings give him wide appreciation.
By purchasing a work of art in 1903 by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, he received official recognition. During his holidays on the coast he painted fishing boats and beach scenes. In his country house in Kalmthout he painted outside views of the garden and the heath.
There are 850 known works by his hand.
Aquarel by Antoon Mortelmans
The country house of Frans in 1910, situated on the edge of the Kalmthoutse heide, in the town of Heide.
The talented sculptor Josué Dupon also had a country house there, and was Frans' neighbour.
Like his brother Lodewijk, Frans was a member of the art circle De Scalden (1889-1914), (founded in Antwerp with Jules Baetes as chairman). He was also a member of Arte et Labore (Antwerp), De Hulst and De Distel (Mechelen), and from 1889 he took an active part in the activities and exhibitions organised in Belgium to promote art in all its forms.
In that period he was one of the artists who managed to sell his works easily both in Belgium and abroad. He travelled to the Scandinavian countries with a whole load of paintings (number, works and countries unknown), and sold them all. (family testimony)
Frans Mortelmans (appointed in 1901) was Professor of Still Life Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berchem for many years and was acting director there during his last years of service until 1935. Among his best-known students there were Joris Minne and Antoon Mastboom.
He also gaved private lessons to Countess Romania du Bois d'Aische, married to Knight Mayer van den Bergh (see p. 163 'Kasteel Hof ter Linden Edegem' by Linda De Keuster), aswell to his nephew, the later pastelist Franck Mortelmans (1898-1986), and to Mrs. Van Ingelghem from Luxembourg.
In 1892 he married Marie Fontaine. The couple remained childless.
Unfortunately, only the paintings have been preserved, so there are hardly any historical sources about his work.
Studying the work of Frans Mortelmans and taking inventory as accurately as possible is now the task of the Mortelmans Foundation.