The Stadsmusen in Hasselt brings the hidden oeuvre of the artist Lucien Nolens to the fore. The painter, who lived from 1879 to 1954, remained a noble unknown until now, but the museum will now change that. “Nolens was far ahead of his contemporaries,” says researcher Kristof Reulens. “While his Limburg colleagues still remained faithful to the earlier Kempen horizon without checkerboards and chimneys, he was already painting the human toll of industrialization. His work evokes memories of the Flemish Expressionists, such as Permeke.”
In recent years, Het Stadsmus has acquired a number of works by Lucien Nolens. However, little was known about the artist and his work. If his name was mentioned anywhere, it was usually as a teacher at the academy. He taught other Hasselt artists, such as Pierre Cox, Paul Hermans or Jac. suffered. But his own artistic oeuvre remained underexposed.
“But the artistic qualities of the works are very exciting,” says Kristof Reulens, curator of the Emile Van Doren Museum in Genk. “That’s why Het Stadsmus decided to investigate this further.” For this they turned to Reulens: an expert in Genk and Limburg artists from the beginning of the last century.
However, Lucien Nolens was extremely modest and had a withdrawn, quiet personality. He also left few traces. It was therefore not easy for researcher Reulens to track down Nolens’ work.
“Lucien Nolens was not a traditional landscape painter of his time,” says Reulens. “With the discovery of coal in Kempen’s underground in 1901, the expansion of the mining industry after the First World War was in full swing. The vast heath landscape was drastically transformed in a short time by the expansion of seven mine sites in the Kempen coal basin. In addition to the business infrastructure, completely self-sufficient villages emerged with garden areas, schools, church and hospital. While countless landscape painters ignored this new reality in their work, it clearly caught the attention of Lucien Nolens. With this, he distinguished himself remarkably from his Limburg colleagues, who remained faithful to the former Kempen horizon without checkerboards and chimneys.”
Chunky workers and fiendish figures
However, Nolen’s interest was more in the human toll of industrialization. “His portrayal of the workers is not truthful; they are rather archetypes,” says Reulens. “The workers, toiling and sweating from the hard work, Nolens often depicted as bony figures with massive hands and feet. They evoke memories of Flemish expressionists such as Permeke. Nolens shifts the focus to people: his black-lined worker figures dominate the canvas and seem almost trapped in their frame, ready to burst at the seams.”
Impressive pieces from his oeuvre are the gloomy and dark allegorical scenes. Lucien Nolens made them in the years after World War II. “These works of art are populated with diabolical figures, grim grimaces and tormented bodies. The direct reference to the horrors of war and the dark side of man is clearly present.”
The lecture provides a bird’s-eye view of Nolen’s oeuvre
This Saturday, Kristof Reulens dives into Nolen’s life and work and tells how this Kempen painter grew into a painter of mining and port work. He looks for its significance within the Limburg art world at the time and its significance for a new generation of ambitious artists. “This is a first step in making his work available. We are still looking at how we can give this all-too-modest artist the space he deserves and how we can finally show him to the public through, for example, digital access to the collection. ” according to curator Ann Delbeke.
“The result of this research is astonishing. What if Nolens had been less modest? Would Hasselt have had its own Permeke?”, asks councilor for culture Nele Kelchtermans. “We are very satisfied with the result of the research, which will be explained in a lecture on September 10. We can now rediscover a hidden piece of Hasselt and Limburg’s history.”
Saturday 10 September: 15.00 Het Stadsmus
(Photos: Het Stadsmus)