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Title: Zilversmeedkunst in België van 1945 tot 2000 (The Art of the Silversmith in Belgium from 1945 to 2000 )
Subtitle: Een synthese (a short overview)
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 33    Date: 2004   
Pages: 179-199
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.33.0.563299

Abstract :
The Art of the Silversmith in Belgium from 1945 to 2000 The art of the silversmith in Belgium experienced an eventful history from 1945 to 2000. After the Second World War, the production houses continued their activities in silverware, but were forced to close their doors one by one. A long period of non-activity followed, until a renaissance in artistic silverware began to manifest itself starting in 1990. During the first phase, lasting until the 1960s, secular and sacred objects dominated the ateliers of the production houses. The economy blossomed immediately after the Second World War and the silversmiths profited, but the tide soon turned. From the beginning of the 1950s, sales began to tail off. Companies producing silverware saw their salvation in alternative, cheaper materials. Silver plating appeared on a massive scale in the 1950s, followed shortly thereafter by non-precious metals. The world’s fair in 1958 in Brussels saw a breakthrough in modernistic silverware design. Decorative elements were rejected as all attention was turned to form. At the same time, several independent silversmiths made their presence felt. Their oeuvre consisted mainly of liturgical silver work, showing a strong element of modernism. These silversmiths, too, experienced the difficulties within the sector. Starting in the 1960s, the continued existence of the silver producers became precarious. The public’s lack of interest and the increase in the price of silver was fatal for their collective enterprise. Companies disappeared one by one. A secondary reason, related to liturgical silver work, was the decrease in the number of priests. This lessening in interest was also perceptible in the exhibitions. Ultimately, only the Wiskemann company was able to survive thanks to a merger of the firms of Delheid Frères and Bruno Wiskemann. The new firm went under the name of S.A. Wiskemann N.V. The other companies ceased their activities or reoriented themselves. A period of non-activity followed. The 1960s and 1970s were characterised by a major decrease in productivity, a situation that remained unchanged until the end of the 1980s. The closing of the l’École de Mètiers d’art de Maredsousin 1964 was just one more sign of the grave situation. Nevertheless, an important initiative was launched in this period. In 1968, the ateliers for jewellery art – later expanded to other fields – were set up at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts and the Karel de Grote Hogeschool in Antwerp. The majority of the silversmiths active in the 1990s received their education at one of these art schools. The “TReASHure isLAND” stand set up by the Economic and Social Institute for the Self-Employed marked the beginning of the third period in 1990. The 1993 exhibition “Een Schitterend Feest” (A splendid party), organised by the Flemish Institute for Self-Employed Entrepreneurs (VIZO) continued down this same path. The dynamic Sterckshof Silver Museum and the VIZO together had a major impact on the renaissance of silverware production. In addition, in 1983 the silver price stabilised, after the massive price increase at the end of the 1970s. Silver as an artistic medium was once again accessible. The focus was now mainly on secular objects and objets d’art in silver. Religious silver work with a contemporary design was the exception. The former production houses had disappeared from the terrain. In the work of the silversmith, now elevated to the status of artist, the concept was central. In terms of form, the emphasis was primarily on stylisation and abstraction. The colour gradations of silver were also exploited to the full, varying from a white to a black patina. The result has been a diverse oeuvre where the art object has taken pride of place.

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