DE KAPEL - Antwerp (1899-1906)
‘A new morning full of sunny dreams’.
How 'De Kapel' brought life in cultural landscape op Antwerp (fragment)
What was it?...
In fact something rare, rather unique. In no way something what the name 'de Kapel' could suggest : not a sort of closed society of egocentric dilettants, who continuously would be ready to praise each other to the sky. It was a literary circle, whose door was widely open for anyone attracted with a free spirit of camaraderie, calling you as from his doorstep.
De Kapel was a mystic, artistic and socio-philosophic association in Antwerp (on initiative of Frans Franck) with anarchistic inspiration, who will have a profound influence on a whole lot of cultural activities in de first part of the 20st century.
François 'Frans' Franck (1872-1932)
As a furniture maker and antique dealer, Frans made work of the existing ideals hanging in the air. He took the initiative for De Kapel and thus started a cultural movement, which would last till past the Second World War.
It would be his sole commitment to the Antwerp Cultural World; during his whole life he remains, as meceanas, involved in the management of several official art companies, as example the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts.
Franck was an 'entertainer' for his whole life, with an unlimited optimism and an irresistable perseverance, as described by Ary Delen in a tribute-book of Lode Baekelmans.
Frans Franck married Anaïs (Anna)(?-1927), and had two sons, Francis and Louis Jr. Franck. This last one was named after his uncle Louis Franck, and died at the end of the eighties of the last century at the age of 80 years.
Frans Franck had two older brothers : Louis Franck (1868-1937) and Charles Franck (1870-1935)
In 1899 Frans Franck rented the empty Chapel of the Godshuis (House of God) which had been build in 1656 by Cornelis Lantschot close to the harbour of Antwerp (address : Falconrui 45, today nr. 47). He wanted to use it to store all his furniture and carpets, and would pay annually a fee of 300 (belgian) francs. (approx. 7,5 Euro)
The rental contract would go from 28th of July 1899 till 30th of July 1923. Shortly after the closing of the renting, this previous house of God, which after the French Revolution had mainly been used as workshop for scultors, would not be used as warehouse but would serve others.
The Chapel was the gathering and reunion place for the circle 'Studie' (Trad. Study), and Frans Franck mainly opened it for a wider variety of intellectual and artistic creativity, which started the Kapel-mouvement.
Inside you could find a buste of 'Baudelaire', on the altar stood 'Le Beau Dieu' from Amiens, and 'Aurore' of Eugène Carrière. Friezes of the Parthenon decorated the sidewalls.
On thursday evenings you could find anarchists of different kind in De kapel, individuals who at the end of the 1900 century in and around Antwerp where claiming artistic and social reforms.
Anarchism (from Greec : an = no, archos = ruler)
At the end of the 19th century many pupils of the Atheneum of Antwerp gathered here.
From De Kapel would emerge important art mouvements :
- 'Van nu en straks' - circle in the literairy world
- 'Koninklijke Maatschappij der nieuwe concerten' - cercle on initiative of Lodewijk Mortelmans in the musical world
- 'Kunst van heden' - cercle on initiative of Richard Baseleer in the art of painting
Image : Kapel, Falconrui 45 (18 December 1902) - Program of the first Schumann Evening, given by Lodewijk Mortelmans
Jef van Overloop (1878-1949), involved as from the first day on activities of De Kapel, later looked back at Francks dynamism with these words :
'In an unstable time [...] grew from a small group of faithfull friends the need 'to do something'. And something was effectively done, especially because in this group we have Frans Franck, the driving force, the man who created possibilities, not only by making plans, but also by executing these same plans, always available, and generous to support any idea, even if this idea was opposite to his own.'
Ary Delen later wrote down : 'we were anarchists, 'flaminganten' and theosophs, idealists and fanatics, titans, unworried and fervent and enthusiast freedomlovers. We were furious and even mercilessly unjust. We praised to the sky and teared down...'.
In a commemorary book for Lode Baekelmans Ary Delen described Frans Franck as follow : 'Frans was an entertainer whole his life, armed with his indistructable optimism and with an all winning perseverance'.
The dash of Franck has indeed made many enthousiasts, although the maecenas did not took the initativ to De Kapel on his own. Alongside him stood the furniture maker Jef van Overloop, the painter Richard Baseleer (1867-1951) and the literators Emmanuel de Bom (1868-1953) and Lode Baekelmans (1879-1965)(maried to Alida Resseler, sister of Victor Resseler).
The core of loyalists were Victor Resseler (1877-1955), Louis Franck (1868-1937)(brother of Frans Franck), and the painter Walter Vaes (1882-1958), while a few later would join : Charles Franck (1870-1935)(brother of Frans Franck, founder of the Friends of Modern Art and art collector), Joris de Bom (brother of Emmanuel), Jan van Menten, Karel van den Oever, Ary Delen, Jan Eelen, Oscar Six, Jan Madou, Lodewijk Mortelmans [3rd from the left] and Alfons de Ridder (known as the writer Willem Elsschot).
Most of them were free-thinking or liberal; many before had united themselves in Flemish minded cercles at the Atheneum and in the so-called ‘Antwerp anarchists group’, who gathered irregularly since 1896 at various places – in pubs, coffee houses, painters workshops, at the small bookshop of Jan Madou, etc.
Inside the Chapel, from left to right :
Jef Judels, Mrs. Judels-Kamphuyzen, Richard Baseleer and Albert Tijck
Earlier names such as Lodewijk Mortelmans and Richard Baseleer make clear The Chapel did not only moved on the literary scene.
Around 1903 at the initiave of Lodewijk Mortelmans issued, out of De Kapel, the 'Royal Society of New Concerts' (Koninklijke Maatschappij der Nieuwe Concerten), who made perform great composers, conductors and soloist in the city of Antwerp.
And in 1905 a group of painters separated themselves from 'The Chapel', and guided by Richard Baseleer, started the cercle 'Kunst van Heden'.
Both cercles evolved from the concerts and exhibitions organised back then in De Kapel, and existed respectively until 1937 and 1962. The specific Kapel-activitities would end around 1906.
The magazine 'Van nu en straks' (1893-1894 and 1896-1901) was founded in Kalmthout (North of Antwerp) in the house of today's owner Dr. Van Peel, Kapellensteenweg 118 at the corner with the Vogelzangstraat.
From the chaotic powerlines in a time full of contradictions the contemporary art ('van Nu' = from now) aims a new synthesis to prepare the new art towards the future ('en Straks' = en tomorrow).
Since quiet some time August Vermeylen dreamed of editing a magazine able to compete in a literary and grafical way with the european modern streamings as they appeared in large foreign and franco-belgian magazines. Why this magazine achieved a european level is seen within the interest from international scientific literature about Art Nouveau in which the magazine often is quoted and discussed, next to other magazines such as 'Le Mercure de France, La Revue Blanche, Pan, Jugend, Ver Sacrum'.
She contributed to the renewel and revival of the Flemish literature. There are ressemblances with 'De Nieuwe Gids', but 'Van Nu en Straks' rejected the 'art for art'. The ideal art is a way of life who rises the individual poignancy at a general scale, a community art. A synthetic vision of life (the whole person) stood in the sign of neo-romantism. They would be an avant-garde organ without esthetic dogma. They turned themselves against realism and naturalism, because they believed it too superficial.
The first series (1893-1894) of documents were mainly dedicated to literature and visual art. The editors were Cyriel Buysse, Emmanuel de Bom, Prosper van Langendonck and August Vermeylen.
Henry Vandevelde took care of the typography and the illustrations came from Maurits Bauer, Henry de Groux, A. J. Derkinderen, G.W. Dijsselhof, James Ensor, Willy Finch, Marg. Holeman, Roland Holst, G. Lemmen, X. Mellery, G. Meunier, G. Minne, Thorn-Prikker, Jan Toorop, Henry van de Velde, Vincent van Gogh, Théo van Rysselberghe, Jan Veth.
Henry van de Velde, living in Kalmthout, knew these artists through the exhibitions from 'Le Cercle des XX' in Brussels and from the 'Association pour l'Art' in Antwerp.
The printing was done by J.-E. Buschmann in Antwerp on a handpress. The grafical design in the second series was again consigned to Henry van de Velde.
Also appeared documents of Hugo Verriest and Guido Gezelle.
The magazine Van Nu en Straks was the spokesperson of the avant-garde in the Flemish Fin de siècle of the nineteenth century. It introduced an intellectual art opinion, based on anarchism, symbolism and Art Nouveau. Prosper van Langendonck was the stranger. He was accepted by the other 'nineties', although as a fervent catholic he was no adherent to anarchism.
After a while this anarchism feeling dropped, or evolved towards a more humane socialism as did for August Vermeylen.
In the second period (1896-1901) joined a new believer Karel van de Woestijne. Also Stijn Streuvels collaborated and Herman Teirlinck made his debut. The editors tried to join french artistic cercles, such as 'The XX' and 'La Libre Esthétique' and also to formulate a flemish answer towards the new sounds from the Netherlands, in an attempt not to go provincial but international.
With Van Nu en Straks it was important that literature showed 'higher aspects' of life.
In Flandern Van Nu en Straks realised in only ten years time a real revolution in flemish culture and acted as a catalysor for the liberal and catholic papers that were created, renewed or revived in that time.
After a long period, the flemish literature catched up around the turn of the nineteenth century and had finally found his magazine who was no longer inferior to these of the Netherlands.
In 1901 most of the animo of the editors towards anarchism was gone, and on top of that a difference in view regarding a publication marked the end of the magazine.
A last and third attempt came in 1998, with only a few editions.
The magazine 'Alvoorder' appeared in Flanders in 1900 and 1901. It was founded on the initiative of Willem Elsschot and was bi-montly. The magazine was rather progressive, lightly anarchistic. Amongst the editors we read the names of Herman Teirlinck and Lode Baekelmans.
The 'Alvoorders' in the midst of nature, from left to right :
Karel van den Oever, Reimond Speleers, Constant van den Oever, Leo J. Kryn, Rosseels, Jan Eelen, Lode Baekelmans, Jef Beuckeleers
The artistic cercle of De Kapel marked the beginning of a moving century of art and culture in the city of Antwerp. The magazine Ontwaking, was established in 1896 (continued 1902-1909) by the later brothers-in-law Victor Resseler and Lode Baekelmans, and carried the germs of an artistic revival. Printer and editor of the periodic was Victor Resseler, who at that time was the energetic chairman of a militant flemish circle in which pupils of the atheneum were united. Lode Baekelmans was one of the leading figures of this little group of literature lovers, who started 'Voor Elck wat Wils'.