Frans Masereel

I came across my copy of The City (originally published in 1925) by Frans Masereel. I've had it for years and just recently was moved to look through it again. Masereel was born in Belgium in 1889 and lived first in Paris and then Berlin where, notably, he was friends with George Grosz. He worked as an artist for magazines and journals and created a number of 'graphic novels.' He worked in charcoal, paint and watercolor but it was his series of expressionistic woodcuts that made Masereel internationally known.

I've not seen any of Masereel's other woodcut series but this particular 'novel' bristles with social commentary: scenes of consumer frenzy, labor clashes, and bourgeois malaise. In a stark, flashcard views Masereel conjures instances that are at the same time highly detailed and universal: the anonymous scramble of the streets, the dynamic modern city and the hidden machinery that propels it. Glimpses of moneyed spectacle and louche feather-bedecked gaiety alternate with the squalor of back alleys and scenes of hushed personal desperation. A brilliant spray of fireworks or the insistent glare of a streetlight illuminates both a flash of domestic horror as well as the quiet padding of the cat down the back stairs...

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