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A painter in the classical Flemish tradition, he was a “marinist”, and that included fishing scenes, harbour, coastal scenes and landscapes.
Frans Van Damme was born in Hamme-Theet (East Flanders) on July 19th 1858. His grandfather was Petrus Franciscus Van Damme, a carriage maker, born in Waasmunster on May 4th 1803 and his grandmother Amelia Goossens born in Zele on March 30th 1810. Virginia Van Damme, daughter of his grand uncle Paulus married Petrus De Keyser, who was the cousin of the first Belgian catholic lord mayor of London. His grandparents had four children: Richardus, Leopoldus, Carolus and Melania (she was a midwife).
Richard Van Damme married Joanna Catherina Bonnaerens in Hamme in 1857. They had five children: FRANS (the artist), Petrus (who had a piano school), Leonardus, a baby who died and Leo. His mother died in 1866, when he was 8 years old giving birth to Leo.
From 1872 to 1878, Frans Van Damme received a classical Flemish painting training at the Royal Art Academies of St. Niklaas and Antwerp. His professors were Stobbaert, Courtens and Artan. In 1885, he became professor at the Academy of St. Niklaas. In 1887, he received the “Prize of Rome” for Flemish painting. Between 1890 and 1910, he obtained many prizes including the “Golden Medal” in Tunis (Tunisia) (1890). In 1910, he received the first prize with the golden “Palmes Académiques” and the “Légion d’Honneur” in Paris for an outstanding painting entitled “Eclaircie sur l’Escaut à Valsoorden”. This painting is the propriety of the French government. Most of his works were painted in Holland.
Frans Van Damme married Jeanne Bourguignon in Brussels on June 17, 1902. They had two children; René, born in 1903, who later left Belgium to work and live in Ethiopia. He died at the Swedish mission in Wondo Genet (Ethiopia) in 1978 never returning to his beloved country. Their second son Robert was born in 1906 and became a merchant navy sea captain sailing the oceans of the world. He died in Brussels on October 19, 1991.
Whilst he reached the top of his fame, the 1914-18 war broke out. In Zeebrugge, the bombardment by the British of the harbour in September 1914 put ablaze his studio, destroying it to ground level, and all his beloved paintings, works of many years disappeared in flames. After leaving Zeebrugge, he went to Heist to try to paint again.
Being a “commandant” in the civil guard, the Germans arrested him for having a radio in his possession to send coded messages (his wife and son René being in the resistance). They sent him to a 17th century jail in Vilvoorde, outside of Brussels. Being a sensitive man, he never recovered from his captivity.
He was released in 1918. Belgium forgot him and in his sadness and misery, he painted very few pictures. One of them belonged to the late Prince Charles of Belgium (the prince regent), brother of King Léopold III. The painting represents “HMS Thethis” blocking the port of Zeebrugge completely destroyed, burning and sinking amidst the fires and guns. It was his last picture as he died in complete misery (the destiny of many great painters) at the workhouse “Hospice Pachéco” (situated rue du Canal), now rue du Grand Hospice, 7 in Brussels on April 30th, 1925. Having no money, he was buried in a council grave (No. 1240) in Brussels cemetery.
Submitted by his granddaughter Jeanine Van Damme