Van de Kerkhove, Frédéric
Category: Artist and sculptor
Gabriel Delanne - Materials for use in the Study of Reincarnation
On August 12, 1873, at the age of 10 years and 11 months, the young Van de Kefkhore [sic], from Bruges, died. He left 350 paintings, some of which, according to Adolphe Siret, a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts and Fine Arts of Belgium, could have been signed with the names of Diaz, Salvator Rosa, Corot, etc.
Another critic, the painter Richter, the powerful French colourist, having accidentally seen about twenty paintings of the young prodigy, congratulated the owner on having so many of Théodore Rousseau's sketches in his possession. It was hard to fool him, and when he knew the truth, he could not hold his tears over such a lost opportunity.
Frédéric Jean Louis Van de Kerkhove also known as Fritz Van de Kerckhove and as l'Enfant de Bruges (Sint-Kruis (Bruges), 4 September 1863 - there, 12 August 1873) was a Belgian painter-prodigy who died from hydrocephalus when he was - not 10 years and 11 months as Delanne believed, - but 9 years and 11 months – nearly 10. Fritz was the son of Jan Van de Kerkhove († 1881), a Bruges grain merchant and amateur painter of genres and landscapes.
Fritz Van de Kerckhove was described as ‘someone who had never learned to read or write’. He painted, from the age of seven, without any training, small landscapes that according to Dutch Wikipedia, ‘bear witness to a curious maturity with their sketchiness and monochrome brownish tones’. He painted usually in oils on small panels with an old palette knife. For an adult the paintings would be regarded as pleasant and competent, even showing slightly impressionistic tendencies, but for a nine year old they are extraordinary and especially a child with, in effect, ‘water on the brain’. Dutch Wikipedia say the paintings are “reminiscent of paintings from the Barbizon School.”
After Frederic’s death in 1873, a hundred small paintings on panel were exhibited in the Cercle artistique et littéraire in Brussels, at the beginning of 1875. The event was widely reported in the press. And it is possibly these press reports that Delanne used for his extra information. The press called him a prodigy, and a ‘brilliant inhabitant’ of Bruges. The same exhibition was also held in Antwerp and Ghent and, in 1877, in Paris. The sale of his paintings yielded 2000 fr, which for the time was a considerable amount of money. He was compared to Mozart, who also started as a child prodigy.
In the art magazine "La Fédération Artistique" and elsewhere, strong written attacks were made for a while about the authorship of these works: some claimed that they were the work of the father, indicating that his father was an amateur painter too. Many doubted that a child of 9 could paint with such maturity or that he could be the author of the many small landscapes and etchings attributed to his name.
Jean Rousseau (1829-1891) was one of the most violent critics of this prodigy, while Buls (later mayor of Brussels) defended the authenticity of the works. Buls called these paintings ‘masterpieces’ and compared Fritz Van de Kerckhove with Corot, Courbet, Daubigny, but also with Breughel or Van Goyen!! Again, one assumes this is where Delanne obtained his information about the child being more than just a prodigy. The whole fuss led to a lawsuit. Witnesses came forward who declared to have seen the little one independently at work. This dispute was eventually nipped in the bud by a (politically charged) vote in the Bruges city council in 1875, which is hardly a rational way of deciding the truth, but did settle the argument.
Right: His father Jan's drawings for comparison
After this, Frederic’s landscapes were engraved by his father and sister and published in bundles. There is a bundle of 25 etchings and another of 100 (actually 126) pieces. Both were published in 1877. This somewhat indicates that an artist’s ability was already ‘in the genes’, as it were, one could speculate that Frederic’s sister was the one to have the talent, and that this was a way of exploiting it at a time when women were simply not allowed to do anything much except cook and bear children. We will never know, but we have provided this entry so that the link can be made to hydrocephalus and a possible talent.
Frederic is buried in the family tomb of Van de Kerkhove in the old cemetery of Sint-Kruis. On the tombstone is an obelisk designed by the Bruges architect Louis Delacenserie, designer of the Antwerp Central Station, with the portrait of Frédéric in a bronze medallion.
The description above is derived from that provided in Dutch Wikipedia, which in turn attributes its information to the following
(fr) A. Siret, Frédéric Van de Kerckhove, paysagiste mort à lge de dix ans et mois le 12 août 1873. Sa vie et ses œuvres, the Journal des Beaux-Arts du 15 septembre 1874
(fr) Ad. Siret, L'Enfant de Bruges. Renseignements biographiques, documents, articles de journaux, lettres, procès-verbaux, etc., réunis et annotés par Adolphe Siret, Bruxelles, Office de Publicité, Paris, A. Lévy, and Leuven, Peeters, 1876
(fr) Journal des Etudes Psychologiques, novembre 1874
(fr) R. MORTIER, L'Enfant de Bruges and les écrivains, Bruxelles, Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 1999
newspaper "L'Écho de Bruxelles", 7 February 1875
Buls, Revue de Belgique de février 1875 La Question Van de Kerckhove
Brugge, Gemeenteblad 1875, session May 15th
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