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 in Herentals which bears his name, this Carrara marble version was made for and exhibited for the first time at the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1878, and won 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.

To this day, no copy of this sculpture has ever been discovered, leading us to assume that this piece is unique, as was often the case with royal commissions. Following its success at the Exposition Universelle, L’Artiste” was sold to Prince de Stirbay to grace his palace on the outskirts of Paris. As noted by Guillaume Bijl, with specific mention of this sculpture, princely clientele were not unusual for Fraikin:

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 “L’Artiste” tucked away in its princely and private collection, a plaster model held in the Fraikin Museum has represented the artist’s work 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, 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.

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 due the family’s precarious financial situation following the death of his father. However, Fraikin never lost sight of his passion and did everything in his power to become the artist he had always dreamt of being.

It was during his time as a pharmacist that he encountered the marble sculptures of artist Guillaume Geefs, which enchanted him such that he abandoned painting and drawing to 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 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 in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. The resulting Royal interest led to various commissions, among them, portraits.

After a one-year study visit to Italy (1846), Fraikin’s career was in full swing. He was then twenty-nine years old and had become a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium. As he was participating regularly in the Belgian Salons, he was also entrusted with major government commissions: one of which was to sculpt eleven statues for the front facade of the Brussels Town Hall and a fountain commemorating the mayor, Nicolas-Jean 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 has now been rather ineptly replaced by a polyester version. In 1880, Fraikin’s seated marble figure of the astronomer Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) was placed in the sumptuous gardens of the Brussels Academies Palace.

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 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.

Awarded every imaginable distinction and knighthood, in 1888 he donated a unique collection of 94 sculptures to his town of birth. 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.

Among Fraikin’s achievements and distinctions were:

         – a qualified pharmacist

         – a Member of the Belgian Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts.

         – a corresponding member of the Institut de France.

         – an active member of the University of Antwerp.

         – an honorary member of the Royal and Imperial Academy of Vienna.

         – an external member of the Trinity Society in Dallas, Texas.

         – an active member of the Royal Commission for Monuments.

         – a member of the Management Commission of the Royal Museums.

         – a member of the Society of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Antwerp.

         – a corresponding member of the Artistic Institute of Ghent.

        –  a corresponding member of the Antwerp Circle of Science, Letters and Fine Arts.

         – an honorary member of the Cercle d’Art de Liège.

         – a Commander of the Order of Leopold.

         – a Commander of the Order of Christ of Portugal.

         – a Knight of the Legion of Honour (France).

         – a 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, 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 respected 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 of Fraikin’s works are to this day in major museums and his mention in many books attests to the historical importance of the artist in the 19th century.

Height : 202,5 cm (Base : 79,5 cm / Sculpture : 123,0 cm)

Width: 68 cm

Depth: 38 cm

(Base Width: 67 cm, Depth: 57 cm)

  • Paris World Exhibition 1878
  • Prince of Stirbay
  • Succession Paris Palace 2007
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