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Frans Masereel: The First Woodcut Novelist

Masereel cat

Frans Masereel, Landschaften und Stimmungen: 60 Holzschnitte (Munich: K. Wolff, 1929).

What defines our attraction to a particular artist? Education and experience can offer us opportunities to see an artist's work, but whether we like or truly appreciate it is dependent on individuality and personal taste. In my own work, I get to see a wide variety of art in books—from ancient to contemporary—and there are always some artists that I prefer over others. This post is a reflection on one of my favorites: Frans Masereel (1889–1972).

Masereel, a Belgian graphic artist, is considered by some to be the creator of the woodcut novel. There is a certain warmth and linear clarity to woodcuts that I find appealing: everything from the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) to the woodblock prints of Japanese artists in the ukiyo-e style. Masereel's woodcut novels fascinate me because in each one he creates a narrative using strictly images, no text—although there may be an introduction by Thomas Mann or some other great contemporary. For a modern-day equivalent to this kind of work, you might be familiar with the graphic novelist Eric Drooker, whose artwork in Flood! was heavily influenced by the novels of Masereel.

Thomas J. Watson Library has a number of Masereel's woodcut novels. Below are some images that I will let speak for themselves, just as Masereel would have done.

Masereel office

Frans Masereel, Landschaften und Stimmungen: 60 Holzschnitte (Munich: K. Wolff, 1929).

Masereel woman

Frans Masereel, La Sirène: Vingt-Huit Bois Gravés (Paris: P. Verms [Coulouma], 1932).

Masereel crosses

Frans Masereel and Thomas Mann, Jeunesse (Zurich: Oprecht, 1948).

Masereel library

Frans Masereel and Thomas Mann, Jeunesse (Zurich: Oprecht, 1948).

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