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GEORGE VAN RAEMDONCK

George Van Raemdonck, the ambassador of the Flemish satirical art and cartoons in the Netherlands. One can read this in the book that Karel De Decker wrote about him in the Flemish Tourist Library series, issue nr. 161 from May 1973, an honorary title which Van Raemdonck certainly earned. Who was this man really? Most people would shrug their shoulders, but there may still be a few older people in Boechout who have known him, but the rest... George Van Raemdonck was born in Antwerp on the 28th august 1988 into a prosperous family, his father was a chemist on the Hopland in Antwerp but preferred painting rather than pill rolling. We don't know very much about his early years, only that George grew up in the seaport under the watchful eyes of a strict father and a French mother. When he was 15 he attended the Academy of Antwerp and took lessons from 1903 till 1908. From 1908 till 1914 he studied in the National Higher Institute for Fine Arts to study landscape painting under supervision of Frans Courtens.

Curiously enough he doesn't want to make painting or drawing his profession; his plan is to seek fortune in music and therefore follows violin at the Conservatory and visits many concerts. In spite of his virtuosity with the violin he can't make it to the top of the music world so he stops this career and settles back into drawing.

On 29th of July 1909 while still studying at the Higher Institute he leaves home and moves to Zwijndrecht near Antwerp and lives there like a real bohemian. In this period he mainly makes paintings, many of them unique. On 12th April 1913 he weds Adriana Denissen and on 21st February 1914 their first daughter Pauline is born. As war breaks out in 1914 Van Raemdonck and his family flea to the Netherlands together with many other Belgian artists (Marnix Gijsen, Jef Van Hoof, Oscar Van Hemel...), he doesn't flea to England as often wrongly alleged, he was only there in 1913 for a short while before his marriage.

To prove that he isn't idle he organizes an exhibition in Bloemendaal on 20th November 1914 and a short time later in Amsterdam. He finds work as a caricaturist (cartoonist) with the 'Amsterdammer'(Amsterdam's Newspaper) in which his first political drawing 'De Nijvere Bertha'(The Diligent Bertha) appears on 6th December 1914. On 22nd February 1916 their second daughter Anna was born. It is in May 1917 that Van Raemdonck gets to know writer A.M. De Jong. This encounter soon grows into a good friendship; that is why it's not surprising that Van Raemdonck illustrated so many of De Jong's books. Apart from these book illustrations he kept working for the newspaper and shunned many works of other writers such as the Christmas-story of Felix Timmermans in 1919. In May 1922 the two artist friends De Jong-Van Raemdonck begin a new project namely the comic strip 'Bulletje en Boonestaak'(Bully and Beanstalk).

On 2nd May 1922 the first episode appears in the newspapers 'Het Volk'(The People) and in 'De Voorwaarts'(The Forward) and runs until 17th November 1937. The text was still written by A.M. De Jong and George makes 8.856 drawings for the comic strip during these 15 years. The comic strip caused a lot of dust because of the language used, the terms of abuse and also the crude drawings (such as drawings of maimed bodies, sometimes naked!...) and the motifs used such as slavery, colonialism, imperialism and anti-militarism, capitalistic usury, religious influence,... the success of the strip was so big that the well-known firm Van Nelle edited a series of books, which totalled 178.441 copies. In this version they had to add some little extra's e.g. swimming trunks for the swimming friends Bulletje and Boonestaak or they replaced a robber, Black Jack, who in the original story was a minister, by a sheriff... Between 1951 and 1959 the N.V. Arbeiderspers (The Workers Press Ltd.) in Amsterdam reprinted 18 sections and in 1968 till 1974 another 5 or so sections by the same publishing business.

In the years 1925 till 27 the firm Van den Bergh, makers of the Blue-Band margarine publishes a magazine in which the two friends provide a comic strip named 'De avonturen van Appelsnoet and Goudbaard'(The adventures of Apple face and Gold beard), two gnomes who experience really thrilling adventures for young children. And the comic strip keeps going on in the Netherlands until Van Raemdonck decides to go back to Belgium, which he actually does on 12th November 1928. He first settles back in Zwijndrecht then later in the Stefaniestraat nr. 71 in Antwerp. What seemed almost evident in the Netherlands, in Belgium he has to prove himself again: to turn an unknown Belgian refugee into a famous and celebrated drawer. Van Raemdonck mostly draws in the evenings and at night while during the day he peacefully reads the newspaper and/or works in his garden. George doesn't consider drawing completely as art, painting that is art and in Belgium he can start doing more painting, he didn't have time for this in the Netherlands. In 1931 one organizes in Antwerp an exhibition of his paintings. On 30th January 1933 Hitler is honored Chancellor of State and from that moment Van Raemdonck and De Jong begin a battle against fascism with pencil and pen; in 'De Notenkraker'(The Nutcracker) we regularly spot anti-fascist pieces until 1935. Meanwhile De Jong writes 'Marijntje Gijzens jonge jaren'(Marijntje Gijzen's early years) for which Van Raemdonck draws the cover. In 1936 these books are filmed which goes on premi¸re on 17th September 1936. If we read between the lines in the series of Gijzen's books namely 'Een knaap wordt man'(A boy becomes man) we see that Marijntje who makes acquaintance with the painter Moonen, in reality meets Van Raemdonck who obviously stood model for this narrative figure.

On 29th October 1938 Van Raemdonck moves from Antwerp to Kapellen and later to Edegem. The threat, for which both artists had been warning, became reality and Hitler, as we know, attacks his neighboring countries with all the consequences. In 1942 the Germans kept De Jong under remand but released him again in 1943 because of his swollen thyroid gland. De Jong, who isn't part of the resistance movement, helps as many political fugitives en Jews as possible. His anti-fascist remarks do not remain unknown. On 18th October 1943 two Dutch SS-soldiers, out of revenge killed him in his home at Blaricum. From now on George has to continue on his own. In Antwerp he becomes widely known as a portrait painter. After the war Van Raemdonck's drawings appear in 'De Volksgazet'(The People's Gazette), 'De Vooruit'(The Forward) and 'Paraat'(Prepared).

In 1947 he settles in Boechout in the Dr. Theo Tutsstraat nr. 39. There now begins a close co-operation between Jef Van Droogenbroeck and Van Raemdonck. After the war the first comic strip of L. Roelandt (ps. Van Droogenbroeck) and George is called 'Tijl Uilenspiegel'(Tijl Owl mirror) after the story of De Coster. George drew 971 illustrations for this. The story appears in 1964 in 'Vooruit'and gets published in book form with fewer drawings. This was reprinted in 1980. 'Smidje en Smee'(a folk story with 143 drawings) also appears in 'Vooruit'as well as 'Robinson Crusoe'(with 291 drawings) after the book of Defoe. Through illness the comic strip about the creation gets only realized for a small part and the comic strip 'Reinaert de Vos'could not be finished because of Van Raemdonck's death in 1966. L. Roelandt died in 1979, he was widely known as translator for works of Jan Wolkers into French. In 1958 George celebrated his 70th birthday, which lead to a great feast for Boechout. Frans Schijvens founded an honorary committee with prominents as countess Moretus de Boechout, generals Thomas and Piraux, composer Jef Van Hoof and writer Eug¸ne De Ridder. Everyone is present in the feast hall Doornboom (now bakery Tijl in Boechout), the fanfares blow their lungs out, festive speeches held by Eug¸ne De Ridder and 92-year-old Floris De Cuyper among others.

That Van Raemdonck likes living in Boechout is obvious as witnessed by the beer mats he filled with caricatures of the regulars in the pub of Jos Verbruggen, on the corner of his street which was George's local, where he drank his pint(s) in the evenings. Different exhibitions succeeded each other namely in 1954 and 1957 and in 1964 in Bergen-op-Zoom. Van Raemdonck lived his last years in the rest home of the H. Familie in Boechout were he died at the age of 77 on 26th January 1966. People can still visit his grave in the park of honour at the cemetery of Boechout. Van Raemdonck's drawings which were seen to some as old fashioned, he didn't go with the times, witness extreme care for detail, details that by viewing the drawing, will summon up more fascination, surprise and admiration. He was a great artist, a captivating cartoonist and a fine painter. Made up by Ronald Vanoystaeyen, responsible organizer of the George Van Raemdonckkartoenale (George Van Raemdonck Cartoonal) at Boechout.

Made up by Ronald Vanoystaeyen, responsible organizer of the George Van Raemdonckkartoenale (George Van Raemdonck Cartoonal) at Boechout.

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