The artist by charles-auguste fraikin

Impressive in size, measuring no less than 123 cm in height, and resting on its original base, Fraikin’s sculpture “L’Artiste” from 1872 reveals itself as a masterpiece.

            Impressive in size, measuring no less than 123 cm in height, and resting on its original base, Fraikin’s sculpture “L’Artiste” from 1872 reveals itself as a masterpiece. While the artist’s original plaster is now held in the museum bearing his name in Herentals, the present Carrara marble version is made for and exhibited for the first time at the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1878, it has granted him the Légion d’honneur, France’s most distinguished medal. A paper document glued to the original base of this sculpture indicates that it was indeed this work that was presented at the Paris Salon in 1878 and not a reproduction.
            We have, to this day, never encountered a copy of this sculpture and assume that it must be unique as was often the case with royal commissions.
            Following its success at the Exposition Universelle, the present marble was sold to Prince de Stirbay and arranged to be gracing his palace on the outskirts of Paris. As noted by Guillaume Bijl, and specifically naming the present sculpture, this type of princely clientele wasn’t a rare feat for the artist: “Several families, mainly from nobility or with an industrialist background, embellish their castles and mansions with these beautiful and disarming works. (…) Of L’amour endormi a marble version was bought by the Duchess Maria of Russia and another version went to the noble house of von Lindenau.
             « L’Artiste » in marble went to Prince de Stirbay, and Les deux amours to the noble family van Bisschoffsheim.” With the present marble tucked away in its princely and private collection, the plaster model held in the Fraikin Museum has defended the artist’s reputation ever since. It was exhibited several times over the course of the past century and was recently granted the central position in the exhibition “In dialoog met de kunstenaar” held at the Art Center Hugo Voeten in 2019 and curated by the artist Guillaume Bijl.
            « L’Artiste » was created when the artist was at the height of both his reputation and skill. The delicacy and quality of the sculpture are a testament to Fraikin’s greatness as an artist.
            Very few works exhibited at the World’s Fair were deemed important enough to attract the attention of the art critics at the time. However, in his record of the World Fair, published in La Sculpture en Europe, the critic Henry Jouin dedicated this important passage to Fraikin’s masterpiece:  « Aux hommes de bataille, aux héros de nos luttes terrestres, si souvent assombries par le sang ou la haine, nous pourrons dédier le bronze; mais les âmes croyantes, lumineuses, l’âme de la chrétienne, l’âme de la femme, ont droit au marbre.
  1. Fraikin s’est trompé : son joli petit peintre assis devant un chevalet de marbre et une toile de marbre sur laquelle il s’apprête à fixer une pensée à l’aide d’un pinceau de marbre, relevait bien plus de la peinture que de l’art plastique, et, sans méconnaître la gracilité des formes de l’Artiste enfant, nous sommes bien forcé de constater qu’ici l’accessoire a plus d’importance que la statue. M. Fraikin possède des qualités trop sérieuses pour ne pas s’avouer à lui-même que sa composition manque de simplicité. »
          Charles-Auguste Fraikin, born in Herentals on 14 June 1817 and died in Schaerbeek on 22 November 1893, was a great Belgian neo-classical sculptor.
            Although he did take some lessons in drawing as a boy in Antwerp (1829) and in painting in Brussels (1832), this immensely talented solicitor’s son had to become a pharmacist because of the precarious situation of his family resulting from the death of his father did not allow him to pursue his passion. He never lost sight of his passion and did everything in his power to become the artist he dreamed of being.
            In January 1833, his father, who had always supported him in his endeavours, was dying. He entrusted his last savings to his son so that he could go to Brussels to complete his apprenticeship.
            A few weeks later, his father died and young Fraikin (only aged 16) was lonely and short of money. He decides to study pharmacy and put his Latin lessons to good use. Fraikin started to work for the pharmacist Van Tilborg and then for the King’s pharmacist Mr de Hemptinne.  Two years later, at the age of 18, he obtained his apothecary diploma with great distinction.  As a favour to Mr de Hemptinne, Fraikin restructured a poor widow’s pharmacy in Genappe for one year. During this period he encountered marble sculptures by the artist Guillaume Geefs, which enchanted him such that it led him to leave painting and drawing, and take up the art of sculpture.
            One year of practice later he decided to join the atelier of Pieter Puyenbroeck (1804-1884) in order to enhance his practical skills (1836). Even before registering as a student of the Academy of Brussels, where he enjoyed further training (1840-1842), the ambitious Fraikin successfully debuted at the Salon of Brussels (1839) with a Young Girl Picking Flowers. Three years on, he submitted two sculptures (1842), which again enjoyed a very positive reception. After three more years of hard work and study, he was awarded a gold medal at the Brussels Salon of 1845 for his sculpture Captured Love that was purchased by the Brussels Royal Museum of Fine Arts in a life-sized marble version. A second version of this work is also in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Royal interest ensued, with, among others, portrait commissions as a result.
             After a one-year study visit to Italy (1846) Fraikin’s career came into full swing. He was then twenty-nine years old and becomes a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium. As he was participating regularly in the Belgian Salons, he was also entrusted with major commissions from the government: he was commissioned to sculpt eleven statues in front of the Brussels Town Hall and a fountain commemorating the mayor Rouppe (1848). In 1850 he made the marble funerary monument to Queen Louise-Marie in the St. Peter and Paul Church in Ostend. Subsequent highlights include the Mérode monument in the St. Gudule Church in Brussels (1857); the bronze Freedom of Association group at the Congress Column there (1859); the famous figures of the executed counts of Egmond and Hoorne (1864), the galvano-plastic Father De Smet statue in Dendermonde (1872) that now has rather ineptly been replaced by a polyester version. In the sumptuous garden of the Brussels Academies Palace in 1880 Fraikin’s marble sitting figure of the astronomer Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) was placed.
            In 1875, Fraikin was chosen by the Academy of Brussels as its representative to travel to Florence for the Michelangelo commemoration.  It is from this period onwards that Fraikin is considered an internationally recognised artist. His works were sent and reproduced in countries all over the world. There are even workshops in Florence and Carrara that exclusively made reproductions of Fraikin’s works; in all sizes and materials.
            As such, it was only at the height of his career that the sculptor from Herentals started to mainly exhibit internationally. In 1878 he exhibited « The Artist » at the Paris World Fair, undoubtedly one of the most important privately bought sculptures of his career. He made the plaster model of this sculpture in 1872 and exhibited the marble sculpture at the Paris World’s Fair at the Champ de Mars in 1878 for the first time. « The Artist » was a great success on this occasion and was purchased by the Prince of Stirbay for his palace on the outskirts of Paris. The creation of this work alone awarded Fraikin the « Légion d’Honneur », the highest distinction for an artist in France at that time.
            Adorned with every imaginable distinction and knighthood, he donated in 1888 a unique collection of 94 sculptures to his birth town. He even laid out their presentation and wrote a catalogue for the occasion.
            Charles-Auguste Fraikin held a speech on the occasion of the opening of his museum on 14 May 1893, summarising his life as an artist. Born in a family of 9 children, passionate about art, overcoming all financial and family difficulties from an early age, with the ultimate goal of becoming the artist he always dreamed of being.
            Fraikin was:
            – An Apothecary graduated with great distinction
            – Member of the Belgian Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts.
            – Corresponding member of the Institut de France.
            – Active member of the academic body of Antwerp.
            – Honorary member of the Royal and Imperial Academy of Vienna.
            – External member of the Trinity Society in Dallas, Texas.
            – Active member of the Royal Commission for Monuments.
            – Member of the Management Commission of the Royal Museums.
            – Member of the Society of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Antwerp.
            – Corresponding member of the Artistic Institute of Ghent.
            – Corresponding member of the Antwerp Circle of Science, Letters and     Fine Arts.
            – Honorary member of the Cercle d’Art de Liège.
            – Commander of the Order of Leopold.
            – Commander of the Order of Christ of Portugal.
            – Knight of the Legion of Honour (France).
            – Knight of the Order of Merit of Saxony.
            Fraikin also won numerous medals at the various exhibitions at which he exhibited his work. He received first class medals at exhibitions in Brussels, Paris, London, Vienna, Philadelphia, Melbourne, Port-Adelaide, etc… as well as the great medal of honour at the Paris exhibition of 1845.
In the press of the time, the artist was already attracting the attention of several art critics.
We can read in:
–  « La Sculpture au Salon de 1875 » by Henry Jouin:
 « Mr Fraikin est toujours l’artiste aux compositions poétiques et gracieuses … »
– « Le courrier Artistique n°30 » from the 25th of Decembre 1864 by Mr J. Dood:
 » L’oeuvre de M. Fraikin a une vigueur, une sobriété,
une puissance, que l’on n’osait point attendre de ce ciseau
si charmant, si délicat. Si l’on songe au peu de parti
que l’artiste pouvait tirer du costume, très-ingrat, si d’autre
part, on réfléchit aux difficultés de l’emplacement,
jugé longtemps impossible, chacun se plaira à reconnaître
que M. Fraikin, en surmontant victorieusement tous
ces obstacles, mérite de vifs éloges pour avoir doté son
pays et toute l’Europe d’une oeuvre aussi complète, aussi
sagement exécutée que sagement conçue. »
– « Le courrier Artistique n° 31 » from the 1st of January 1865 by Mr J. Dood:
 » … A cette liste très-incomplète, M. Fraikin vient d’ajouter
le Monument des comtes d’Egmont et de Hornes, qui ne
sera pas le moins beau fleuron de sa couronne d’artiste.
Lors de l’inauguration qui a eu lieu vendredi 16, en
présence des autorités, des anciennes corporations et devant
une foule compacte qui avait bravé le froid pour
assister à la cérémonie, le monument et les héros qu’il
représente ont été acclamés avec enthousiasme. Il y avait
des applaudissements et pour les deux patriotes et pour
l’artiste. L’un et les autres en ont eu leur part et c’était
justice. Félicitons le ministre d’avoir confié une oeuvre
d’aussi grande importance à, une main aussi habile. »
            In addition to the many public monuments, many works remain today in major museums, although most of the plaster models were donated by the artist himself to the museum that bears his name in Herentals, Belgium.
            The artist is also mentioned in many books as a token of the historical importance of the artist in the 19th century.
  • Overall height : 202,5 cm (Base : 79,5 cm / Sculpture : 123,0 cm)
  • Sculpture Length x Width : 68 x 38 cm
  • Base Length x Width : 67 x 57 cm
  • Wood painted original base.
  • White Carrara marble sculpture.
  • Paris World Exhibition 1878
  • Prince of Stirbay
  • Succession Paris Palace 2007

Model dated 1872 – Marble Sculpture dated 1878

  • Dictionnaire biographique illustré des Artistes en Belgique depuis 1830, Ed. Arto, 1987, p. 169.
  • BENEZIT, E. Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs.Paris: Librairie Gründ, 1951, Tome 4, p. 42.
  • Bijl. F. (2019).  In Dialoog met de Kunstenaar. [Exhibition Catalogue] Art Center Hugo Voeten.
  • Dood, J. (1864). Inauguration Des Statues des comtes d’Egmont et de Hornes. Le Courrier artistique : beauxarts, expositions, musique, théâtre, arts industriels, ventes.Paris, pp. 117-118.
  • Dood, J. (1865). FRAIKIN. Le Courrier artistique : beauxarts, expositions, musique, théâtre, arts industriels, ventes.Paris, p. 123.
  • ENGELEN, C. MARX, M. La Sculpture en Belgique à partir de 1830, Louvain : Engelen – Marx, 2006. Tome III, p. 1550-1557.
  • Fraikin, C-A. (1893). [Catalogue] Museum Fraikin. Herentals.
  • Jouin, H. (1879). La sculpture en Europe 1878.Paris: E. Plon et Cie, p.159.
  • LENNEP, J., La Sculpture au 19ème siècle, Vol 1, Ed. Général de banque et les auteurs, 1990, p. 399-401.
  • PIRON, P. De Belgische Beeldende Kunstenaars uit de 19de en 20ste eeuw. Brussel: Art In Belgium, 1999. Vol A-K. p. 567.
  • THIEME, U.  BECKER, F. Allgemeines lexicon der bildenden künstler von der antike bis zur gegenwart. Germany: E.A. Seemann. 1999. Vol. 11/12. p. 278.
  • Tubex. F. [Article] Fraikin Genootschap. Henrentals.
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