Commemorative Plaque and Diploma, Commemorative Charm - Expo Ghent 1913

Commemorative Plaque and Diploma, Commemorative Charm at the Exhibition Expo Ghent 1913

The medal or plaque as well as the diploma are customary accessories of any exhibition; the Ghent exhibition could not deviate from these precedents, since in all respects its executive committee had been concerned with the artistic aspects of the vast undertaking.

Godefroid De Vreese was commissioned by the general management to present a project for a plaque; the choice of the artist was unanimously approved; De Vreese is in fact one of the recognised leaders of the young Belgian school of medal engraving; none of his emulators has grasped this difficult and delicate art better than he has; he has conquered mastery thanks to an energetic will, constant efforts and untiring perseverance; His friend and biographer, Alphonse de Witte, was right to write that "his work shows a disconcerting ease of conception and activity of work; without neglecting his works of great sculpture, De Vreese modelled, in ten years, more than one hundred medals or plaques as varied in composition as in manner. He has made his mark in portraiture; in this genre he is the equal of the great French masters, whose influence he has taken on in part, without losing his personality.

The plate for the Ghent Exhibition is one of the best works of the conscientious artist; its design is original and well adapted to the event it was intended to commemorate. On the front, a lady with a majestic bearing, the City of Ghent wearing the mural crown on the veil that falls in graceful folds, cordially welcomes three graceful young girls; this pretty group symbolises Art, Commerce and Industry; behind the City of Ghent, a well-decoupled worker represents work; next to him a charming child runs up with an armful of flowers destined for the guests of the Ghent city.

The artist has removed conventional attributes and banal conceptions of routine from this composition; there is weight and balance; the group of three young girls is full of grace; the maid of Ghent draped in the drooping folds of a chatelaine dress, has a majestic and welcoming attitude; her noble bearing, as well as the calm and conscious strength of the worker, contrasts with the mutinous grace of the little girl who is about to throw the flowers under the feet of the guests from Ghent.

The reverse side of the plaque is dedicated to the memory of the triple flower show that gave the Ghent Exhibition of 1913 its brilliant and seductive character. In the background of a vast greenhouse, decorated with tropical plants and lined with climbing roses, we can see the perspective of the main courtyard ending with the entrance dome flanked by its two towers. In the foreground of the composition, two young girls, one seated, the other half-kneeling, are preparing wreaths and garlands of flowers.

The harmonious and graceful qualities of this composition make it a work of singular artistic value; without research, with simple means, without the accumulation of emblems or unnecessary details, De Vreese has marked the characteristic of the city of Ghent, the City of Flowers.
The front and back of the plaque complement each other very well; the work is a departure from the proverbial banality of exhibition medals.

The gold charm offered to the ministers of the countries represented, to the commissioners-general of the Belgian and foreign sections, and to the members of the Executive Committee, as well as to the directors-general of the Universal Exhibition, was the work of Charles Samuel, Godefroid De Vreese's emulator in the art of medal making.

The artist did not have a large surface area for his composition; the small size of the charm had to be reminiscent of the city of Ghent and offer the necessary space to engrave the name and status of the recipient.

Samuel overcame these difficulties; on the front, he depicted the Maid of Ghent with her symbolic lion; behind her, the panorama of the city with its characteristic towers of St. Bavo's Cathedral, the Belfry and St. Nicholas' Church. The coat of arms of Ghent and the year MCMXIII are the two main motifs in the frame of the composition. On the reverse, a bilingual inscription recalls the Exhibition; in a central cartouche, the name and status of the bearer of the charm are engraved.

The Executive Committee had entrusted the eminent Liege artist, Rassenfosse, with the composition of the diploma design; the project presented offered remarkable qualities of composition and execution; it was fortunately inspired by the coincidence of the Floralies with the Exhibition of Industrial Products; deviating from the beaten track, it met in all respects the wishes of the Executive Committee; notwithstanding the strongest of representations, the work did not obtain the assent of the authorities called upon to ratify the choice of the general management. The dream that had been happily cherished had to be abandoned; the respect due to the artist determined the Executive Committee not to entrust the execution of a new project to another designer. With commendable selflessness, Rassenfosse agreed to translate De Vreese's composition for the front of the plaque onto the diploma; he did so masterfully.

In order to pay tribute to the Liège master, the first directorate-general asked him to donate the original project to the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent; Rassenfosse generously agreed to this request and added a gift of one of his works, both of which were gratefully received.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913