Discover the many hidden art treasures in the building by grandmasters such as Paul Delvaux, Pierre Caille and Tytgat.
PIERRE CAILLE (1912-1996)
This versatile Belgian artist has a rich and varied oeuvre as a ceramist, but he was also active as a painter, sculptor and draftsman. He achieved international fame with his polychrome wooden sculptures and played a pioneering role in the developement of ceramic sculpture in Belgium. He was also very creative as a teacher. His world is enriched with strange figures and insects, either terrifying or comical, but always fascinating in form and content. Dream structures, dream sculptures, full of fantasy with great charisma and expression.
He worked together with Charles Leplae, Georges Grard and Paul Delvaux, to name but a few artists. Internationally he had exhibitions in Paris, Rotterdam, New York, The Congo, South Africa, Washington, Munich, Belgrade, etc.
In 1953 he designed two large ceramic figures on a pedestal for the large Hall of Honour in the new Kursaal. They represent exotic (South American?) female figures with their arms crossed. Their clothing consists of square ceramic panels with assorted decorative motifs in various shades of brown and white. The heads are stylized and brown of colour. Characteristic for these sculptures are the remarkable schematization and their playful colour scheme.
In addition, he also designed a number of decorative panels for the Kursaal in which he was able to apply his self-developed inlay technique (a process for applying a kind of inlay mosaic in architecture by means of tiles in stoneware) for the first time on a large scale. A good example of this can be seen above the western entrance to the Hall of Honour. It is a ceramic frieze with a siena-coloured background on which pale repeating motifs such as clouds, waves, fish, etc. are arranged. It's as if they have been pressed there with a giant roller stamp.
A ceramic windscreen can be admired at the top of the stairs to the Hall of Honour. On a pale background, all kinds of aquatic motifs have been applied in which mythology is mixed with the imagination of the artist
PAUL DELVAUX (1897-1994)
Paul Delvaux was born in Antheit, province of Liège. He was often placed in surrealism, but he himself found that interpretation too narrow. The artistic gem of the Kursaal is without a doubt the fresco by Delvaux. Delvaux was fascinated by mermaids at the time. In 1952 Delvaux was asked by architect Stynen to design a fresco. For the realization of the figures, Delvaux and his colleagues used detailed preliminary drawings and designs, many of which are preserved in the Delvaux Museum in St. Idesbald. The figures are always quite sharply outlined in relation to the predominantly blue background. The painting is applied on a plastered carrier of an average thickness of 40 mm, consisting of a white-gray layer of approximately 36 mm and a smooth white final layer. The white-gray layer is composed of sand and lime, possibly with the addition of some plaster. The white layer is a mixture of lime and plaster. The black preliminary drawing was applied directly to the smooth white layer in the form of a line drawing. Subsequently, an underpainting was probably applied in various stages on the basis of matte paint. This layer of paint had a roughening effect on the painting. The final layers were applied to this.
It is said that Delvaux used some 2,000 eggs for this fresco. Eggs were used as a binder in which the colour pigments were dissolved.
GEORGES GRARD (1901-1984)
After his studies in his hometown Tournai, but in love with the light, Grard moved to the coast in 1931, more precisely to a typical fisherman's house in St. Idesbald, where he created his most important art. His friend and colleague Pierre Caille posed with him there several times. Illustrious contemporaries such as Haesaert, Tytgat and Delvaux also visited him regularly. Throughout his life he remained faithful to one theme: the female nude.
The large reclining female figure that Grard made for the Kursaal was named "The Sea", but is better known in Ostend as "Dikke Mathille" (Fat Matilda). The reference to the sea is brought about by the way the hair of the female figure is styled. It refers to the waves of the sea. Grard deliberately anticipated the place where the sculpture would be placed, by creating a sculpture that comes into its own when viewed from below or at the same height. Despite all these qualities, the statue was considered too offensive in that position and in 1963 it was removed from its elevated position on the plinth on the side to the beach promenade (Oosthelling) and moved to the lawn with the fountain on Leopold II laan. The empty plinth at the casino is still awaiting her return.
OLIVIER STREBELLE (1927-2017)
Most of Olivier Strebelle's artworks are inspired by living organisms. The basic element is the invisible. These organisms, when magnified, give Strebelle's work an idiosyncratic and personal structure of things that are known but not visible. Between 1943 and 1947, Strebelle was a pupil at la Cambre in Brussels, where sculpture and ceramics were his main subjects. Leon Stynen, architect and director of La Cambre, commissioned him to design two monumental (200x140x60 cm) ceramics for the Ostend Kursaal: "triton" and "mermaid".
He received many prizes: in 1956 he was awarded the Grand Prize of Rome for visual arts, the gold, silver and bronze medal for the book Olivier Strebelle, Journal d'un sculpteur, world's most beautiful book at the Leipzig International Fair . In 1987 he became a member of the Académie Royale de Belgique.
He exhibited at the Museum of Decorative Art in Oslo, at the Milan Triennial and the Sao Paulo and Venice Biennales, and at the Middelheim in Antwerp. He created numerous monumental works such as for the Casinos of Ostend, Blankenberge and Namur, the world exhibitions of Brussels and Montreal, Shell Company, the universities of Jerusalem, Harrisburg, Atlanta and Singapore, the European Parliament in Brussels, and Brussels Airport Zaventem. Art by this artist can also be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, in Middelheim Antwerp and in the museum of Padua, Italy.
EDGARD TYTGAT (1879-1957)
Tygat was born in Brussels but spent his childhood in Bruges until 1888, where he found inspiration for his entire career. His father, a lithographer, naturally also influenced his oeuvre. When WWI started, he left Belgium to stay in London. There he met Permeke, Van de Woestyne and Daeye with whom he organized a party for soldiers in London. In those years he also started with woodcarving. Back in Brussels in 1923 he settled permanently in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and joined the Flemish expressionist school of Permeke and De Smet. For his artworks he mostly drew inspiration from folklore and popular life.
He also designed tapestries, such as the monumental (5x5 m) tapestry of the Kursaal. The letters that are in mirror image show that the painting is actually a design for a tapestry. For the tapestry in Kursaal he sought inspiration from Greek mythology. The design represents the embarkation of Iphigenia and is one of Tytgat's last major achievements. In 1955, two years before his death, the Kursaal organized a retrospective exhibition of his work. The painting hung in the Thermae Palace hotel for 20 years, but returned to the Kursaal in November 2018 , where it was completely and thoroughly restored in 2019.
OSCAR JESPERS (1887 - 1970)
Born in Antwerp as the son of sculptor Emiel Jespers and brother of Floris Jespers, Oscar Jespers received his first education from his father. Later he studied at the National Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In the years 1914-1918, together with poet Paul van Ostaijen and painters Floris Jespers and Paul Joosten he strives for the renewal of the art form. He became a member of various art associations and traveled through France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and the USA. He was professor at the National Higher School for Building and Decorative Arts in Brussels and professor at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. In 1961 he was a teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 1952 he made the large monumental bronze artwork that adorns the canopy at the entrance of the Kursaal. The "four elements" show four beautifully streamlined characters, harmoniously united, symbols for water, fire, earth and air. The dimensions are in relation to the building: 560 x 410 x 180 cm. Oscar Jespers is considered one of the pioneers of monumental sculpture.
MARC MENDELSON (1915 - 2013)
This artist was a contemporary and kindred spirit of Gaston Bertrand, Anne Bonnet and Louis Van Lint. In 1945 he co-founded the Young Belgian Painters and from 1951 he taught at the silkscreen printing department of La Cambre. In 1952 he was also involved in the creation of the Brussels group "Espace". He introduced in Belgium the technique of wall decorations, created with industrial means based on synthetic dyes and applied with a paint gun. In all likelihood, the frieze that he made in 1953 in the auditorium of the Kursaal is the first large painting in our country to be created in this manner. The frieze in Ostend has a very curious relationship with the general concept of the site. In fact, the artist created, parallel to the view of the sea, a painted zone divided into three colour nuances. This zone repeats, as it were, the wave movement in an abstract way so that it is simultaneously visible from the Hall of Honour. The large 'beach screens' - which harmoniously form the back of the hall balcony - together with the ceiling veins that form the end of the balcony shell and were made by Stynen in the same direction , also create a curious interaction with the architecture from the circular passage. Photographs of the work in progress show that the painting was indeed applied with a spray gun. Research revealed that the pattern was first applied to the wall with so-called sponge blades.
JULIEN VAN VLASSELAER (1907 - 1982)
Julien Van Vlasselaer studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Higher School of Decorative Arts in Brussels. After participating as a painter in both personal and joint exhibitions, in the 1930s he decisively focused on monumental art. In this new direction, he took part in various national and international exhibitions and in a short period of time received a large number of awards. He created important works for public and private buildings, cinemas, schools, ships, restaurants, office buildings, churches and abbeys. To accomplish these works, he called on a number of disciplines: stained glass windows, engraved glass, mosaics, frescoes, ceramics and mural paintings. After WWII, he limited his activity exclusively to the manufacture of tapestry cartoons, but without neglecting his architectural designs. His cartoon design for a monumental tapestry (5x8.5m) in the Kursaal is located in the Hall of Honour. As with a playing card figure, the tapestry represents the two aspects of the sea: on the left the stormy part that keeps the fisherwoman awake, on the right the sunny side of beach fun. In the centre, a ship appears between the waves, from which the anchor of the hope is cast.