Two wooden sculptures by Karel Aubroeck (1894-1986) are among the lots of the first auction of the season 2015-2016 at Horta. The two remarkable reliefs in precious wood are characteristic of a Flemish version of art deco, intensely pervaded by expressionism.
Some critics may prefer the label of expressionism (more related to the individual genius of the artist) to that of art deco (which is probably more connected with the fashion industry) but the two sculptures are extremely decorative, portraying a naked woman with an elaborate hairstyle and another scantily clad with an exotic wrap around her waist—I can’t tell if she is taking off her clothes. The pieces are not dated. Whether they might have or have not been sculpted after 1940, the end of the deco period, they remind us of a colonial age when the Flemish made profuse use of exotic wood in order to adapt their long tradition of religious wood sculpture to secular use. Their small dimension (one 22 cm and the other 65 cm tall) adds to the denomination I suggest.
Although some of these Flemish sculptors may have fallen into oblivion outside Flanders—it is difficult to find information about them in any other language but Dutch— in their day they were famous and successful and received important commissions when the whole of Belgium was richer and under a single administration. The beautiful art deco workshop-home Karel Aubroeck built himself in 1925 in Tempse near Antwerp had to be enlarged in 1931 to house 9 m. tall sculptures he was working on for the Yser Tower. Today the house belongs to the Flemish decorators Massa and Liekens. Its new gardens designed by Daniel Ost can be visited by large groups with appointment.