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Document Details :

Title: Het wandtapijt 'De triomf van Pater Damiaan' op de internationale tentoonstelling van Parijs in 1937
Subtitle: Een contextuele studie
Author(s): JASPERS, Patrik
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 40    Date: 2018   
Pages: 103-125
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.40.0.3278521

Abstract :
The tapestry depicting The Triumph of Father Damien was specifically created for the Belgian pavilion at the international exhibition in Paris in 1937. It is impossible in this context to ignore the popular response to the repatriation of Father Damien’s mortal remains to Belgium in May 1936. As it was the aim in such exhibitions to present the best that a country could produce, a national hero such as Father Damien (1840-1889) could not be overlooked. The national craft par excellence – the art of tapestry – seemed the most appropriate medium in which to present him. The theme of the 1937 international exhibition in Paris was Art and technique in modern life. The designers of the Belgian pavilion wanted to show how beauty and functionality went hand in hand in Belgian art and craft. The pavilion was designed by Jean-Jules Eggerix and Raphaël Verwilghen. Marcel Schmitz was responsible for the section on religious art. The aim of the design was a strong overall harmony. This was achieved by employing artists who had been trained at the Hooger Instituut voor sierkunsten (Institute of Decorative Arts) in Ter Kameren. Both this school and the committee responsible for designing the pavilion were headed by Henry van de Velde (1863-1957). Marcel Laforêt (1892-1972) was trained as a gold- and silversmith in Maredsous. From 1927 to 1929 he attended Gustave van de Woestyne’s course in monumental mural painting in Ter Kameren. Under his teacher’s influence he developed his own expressionist style. In the 1930s he produced a number of monumental works, such as for the abbey of Clairefontaine (1933), for the Royal Chapel and the Stella Maris chapel at the Brussels World Exhibition (1935) and for the abbot’s chapel at the abbey of Orval (1939). During the post-war period he was mainly engaged in designing stained-glass windows. Laforêt’s tapestry design was executed by Georges Chaudoir’s studio in Brussels. After the exhibition the tapestry was loaned to the Picpus Fathers (the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary), who exhibited it in the Damien Museum in Tremelo from 1952. The tapestry depicts Father Damien’s life on the basis of historical photographs, yet Laforêt added some elements with a deeper symbolic meaning. His expressionist style is evident in the strong angular lines of the monumental figures with their expressive hands and faces. For this tapestry the artist created a new iconographic type that shows Father Damien caring for the people of Molokai (Hawaii). Because there are no historical photos of this, images of the tapestry were soon used as illustrations in numerous publications while also serving as a source of inspiration to various artists.

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