Édifices Anciens: Fragments et Détails, Anvers is a surprise for being an example of early book by the Belgian artist and author, Jean de Bosschère, which is devoid of the idiosyncratic features of the artist’s later style, a style whose curious figures, human or otherwise, make de Bosschère a Belgian equivalent of Sidney Sime. Édifices Anciens was published in 1907, and if the illustrations lack the artist’s invention the architectural details that the drawings depict are inventive in their own way, being examples of the baroque style common to the old buildings of Belgium and the Netherlands.
Anvers is the French name for Antwerp, a city with many facades that peak into those wonderful ogee flourishes, corner finials and crow-step gables that look (to English eyes) typically Belgian and very un-English. One of the few places you’ll see facades like these in England is the city of Hull whose status as a port meant traffic with the Low Countries in architectural styles as well as in goods. (Crow-step gables are a common feature of buildings in Scotland, however, a nation whose architectural idioms are the first signal to a visitor from the south that you’re in a different country.)
Édifices Anciens may be browsed here or downloaded here. For more typical examples of Jean de Bosschère’s drawing style see the links below.
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“…it’s a shame there isn’t more of [Jean de Bosschère’s] idiosyncratic work at the Internet Archive,” I wrote in 2012. The reason that Bosschère’s books aren’t immediately to hand is that the Internet Archive has misspelled his name in many of their tags, not the first time that searches there are thwarted by errors or missing data (illustrators often go uncredited).
The City Curious (1920) is one of several books that Bosschère wrote and illustrated, this edition being translated into English by F. Tennyson Jesse. The whimsical story was presumably intended for children but Bosschère’s imagination is a peculiar one, and his figures are often so eccentric they need to be studied closely to pick out faces and limbs from their details and distortion. Eccentricity isn’t unknown in children’s stories but this one is much closer to Surrealism than the Surrealist’s favourite Lewis Carroll books. Many more of these illustrations may be browsed here or downloaded here.
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The illustrations of Belgian artist Jean de Bosschère (1878–1953) aren’t as easy to find as those of his British and American contemporaries so it’s a shame there isn’t more of his idiosyncratic work at the Internet Archive. Folk Tales of Flanders is there, however, an edition from 1918 featuring a number of colour plates and many black-and-white illustrations. For once I prefer the paintings over the line drawings, de Bosschère’s colour work perhaps owes something to Edmund Dulac’s style but it’s a lot more eccentric, especially here where he’s required to depict the activities of a host of anthropomorphic animals. The eccentricities extended to the artist’s life and the books he wrote, one of which is an autobiography entitled Satan l’Obscure (1933). A lighter work, Weird Islands (1921), was featured at BibliOdyssey a couple of years ago.
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