“An Art Smith” And His Owls
Last week we made an important discovery regarding a large sculpture of an owl in our collection!
While perusing a Belgian auction catalog, we came across a wrought iron sculpture of a cockerel on a branch and noticed that the treatment of the feathers and leaves were so similar to our owl that they must be by the same hand. Luckily, the rooster was signed: Van Boeckel.
Louis Van Boeckel (1857-1944) of Lier, Belgium, was one of the most important ornamental blacksmiths of his time. He was an apprentice to the Verwilt factory in Lier, but developed most of his skills as an artisan by himself. His work, including some of his important animal depictions, can be found in the Timmermanns-Opsomer-Haus Museum in Lier.
Van Boeckel’s numerous awards included the gold medal at the Exposition du Cercle Rubens (1890), le Prix de l’Art appliqué à la rue, Brussels (1893) and the Grande Médaille d’Or and title of Chevalier de l’ordre Royal du Cambodge at the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1900). He is also responsible for work on the grid of the city hall of Lier after 1890, the grave decorations for Czar Alexander III in St. Petersburg and Queen Marie-Henriette in Laeken, the staircases of honor of the Khedive Palace in Cairo and Benedictine monastery on Mount Olive, Jerusalem, parapets of National Bank of Athens, the cathedral of Santo Rio in Buenos Aires and the White House in Washington, D.C.
A magnificent five-light chandelier (pictured below), recently at auction in Germany, is extremely similar to our owl sculpture and further confirms its origin. The chandelier was stamped LVANBOECKEL on the left wing of the owl and was sold with its original invoice from 1929. With this piece of information, we were able to find an identical signature on our owl, confirming it’s maker and solidifying it’s place among the oeuvre of this celebrated master of wrought iron sculpture.
Van Boeckel’s work is very delicate and detailed, particularly after 1900, when he traded his decorative style for a much more imaginative manner of depiction. An article on the sculptor in the February 1907 issue of Technical Review describes him as having an “obliging disposition,” always eager to show visitors his work in progress. He replaced the bell pull of his studio in Lier with a small, forged iron tree branch and upon offering cigars to his guests, would rain blows upon a piece of iron until it was red hot enough to light them. His hearty good will was felt in a parting handshake: “the visitor feels that he is grasping the only hand in the world that can transform a piece of scrap iron into an art object the equal of any a jeweler has ever produced.”