RKD podcast: Franz Melchers, the unjustly forgotten artist

 RKD podcast: Franz Melchers, een onterecht vergeten kunstenaar

The fourth in the series of podcasts made by the RKD in collaboration with Caspar Stalenhoef has appeared (in Dutch) on Spotify and Apple Podcasts among other podcast apps. In this episode Caspar talks to the RKD’s curator Hans Wijgergangs about his research into the life and work of the ‘unjustly forgotten’ artist Franz Melchers (1868-1944).

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Cosmopolitan, decadent and unsettled

Franz Melchers was born in Münster, grew up in the Netherlands, first exhibited in Brussels, sought his fortune in Paris and after a period of wandering between various European cities ended up in Antwerp, where he died at the end of World War II. Even before his return from Paris in 1902 this Dutch artist built up a striking oeuvre that was admired by contemporaries such as Maurice Maeterlinck, Cyriel Buysse, Pol de Mont and Albert Plasschaert. Initially he was comfortable working in the avant-garde fin-de-siècle style, but from 1900 onwards his work is distinguished by a rather old-fashioned realism. He presented himself as a soave dandy figure, but his letters – many of which are preserved in the RKD – reveal a quite different tone and reality. Was his bohemian nomadic existence something that he willingly chose, or was it forced on him by bitter necessity?

1. Franz Melchers, La Phalène des îles de la Mer, 1897, lithograph
2. Franz Melchers, April, 1897, lithograph, KB | National Library of the Netherlands
3. Anonymous, Portrait of Franz Melchers, c. 1902, photograph
4. Franz Melchers, Canard sur un cours d’eau, c. 1902, oil on canvas, Hôtel de Ventes Horta, Brussels

‘Maeterlinckian’ and ‘Melchersian’

The work that Melchers created at the start of his career (around 1890) was executed in a distilled, symbolic and melancholy vein. It can be compared with the poems and plays of Maurice Maeterlinck, in which silence and inertia play a dominant role. Later in his career Melchers adopted a form of cold realism, but one in which his characteristic ‘hand’ can still be recognised, so that we can justifiably speak of a ‘Melchersian’ atmosphere. 

Output and personality

In the latest episode of the RKD podcast Kroniek Kunstgeschiedenis (Art-Historical Chronicle), Hans explains why Melchers is ‘unjustly forgotten’, describing crucial moments in his life, activities, and people he encountered. The biographical details reveal a talented and driven artist, whose whole life was spent in the service of his work despite hardship. This podcast offers an excellent introduction to the personality of Melchers and his character as artist, and leaves you wanting more.