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Broadening horizons

Jef Scheffers in his study
Jef Scheffers in his study
Postmes was keen to forge ties with modern artists, but with Jef Scheffers as director the Kunstnijverheidsschool became more conservative. Whereas Postmes, for example, showed great interest in Maurice Denis, on account of their shared desire to reinvigorate religious art, and did indeed succeed in getting Denis to come to Maastricht to give a lecture to the Limburg Roman Catholic Artists’ Circle (the lecture took place on 23 April 1926), Scheffers’ primary concern was ensuring that the curriculum was executed to the letter. The new director was dismayed by how his students would read art reviews in the left-wing weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer (The Green Amsterdammer) during lessons, or spend their lunch break reading essays by Herbert Read, translated from the English, in the Kroniek van Kunst en Kultuur (Chronicle of Art and Culture). The story goes that, when Scheffers walked past, he would shield his eyes with both hands to avoid being confronted with the accursed modern ideas. Nonetheless, Scheffers was remembered by Lataster, Defesche, and Diederen as the person who opened the door for them to modern art, from Cézanne to the French Fauvists and the Flemish expressionists. Conversely, Scheffers had no truck whatsoever with the latest developments of the day (1945-1950), such as CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), the international art movement with greats such as Karel Appel, Corneille, Asger Jorn and Constant.

Another source of inspiration for the students was the progressive French journal Art Sacré, published from 1935 onwards and edited by the French Dominican priests Couturier and Régamey. The periodical discussed new movements in modern religious architecture, sculpture, and painting, illustrated with examples. The Art Sacré group was a movement within the Catholic community which openly embraced input from non-Catholic artists, based on the notion that all art is, at the end of day, religious. The group envisioned a ‘purification’ of art, which they hoped would engender a brand new, original form of religious art; an art that would ultimately be acknowledged as the true religious art. Art Sacré got triggered very heated debate in the Netherlands. Although not all episcopal building committees were exactly enthusiastic about input from non-Catholic artists, there were exceptions, as these committees were fairly independent and the bishop himself was, to a degree, kept out of the loop. Some committees were on board with the aspirations of Art Sacré and did not object to non-Catholic artists collaborating on the construction and decoration of Catholic churches.

Interested in modern sculpture, teacher Vos and his students in Rotterdam visited - independently of each other - the retrospective of Ossip Zadkine at the Boijmans museum. Among the objects on display at that exhibition, which ran from November 1949 to February 1950, was the plaster model of the sculpture ‘Naissance des Formes,’ which Vos had discussed in class as an example of pure, plastic design. Former student Nic Tummers recalled how, when they bumped into each other, Vos asked him not to mention that he had been there: ‘Just don't tell Scheffers.’ Apparently, he was worried that Zadkine was too controversial in Jef Scheffers’ eyes, given the latter's disparaging remarks about the modern texts that Vos’ pupils blatantly read in class. Vos’ sense of humour never deserted him! Although Charles Vos had only become a teacher in order to secure a regular income, he found it so satisfying and enjoyable that he remained a teacher his whole life, until his retirement on 1 October 1953, a few months before his untimely death. Charles’ departure from the Middelbare Kunstnijverheidsschool was celebrated in style in 1953 with family, colleagues, and friends, at a farewell dinner. Each of the dishes listed on the menu was a witty play on words, alluding to Vos as a sculptor: ‘Vossestartsop’, ‘Pesteikes met Sjarelkespatee’, ‘Beeldhawerstong mèt fritte’, and ‘Boetseerpudding’. The menus themselves were lavishly illustrated and the envelope bore the words, written in Maastricht dialect: ‘For the retirement of Charles Vos, teacher at the Kunstnijverheidsschool in Maastricht, 14 November 1953.’ They were signed by the guests, a widespread custom at the time.’

Maastricht Institute of Arts