Singer, composer, author and visual artist Wannes Van de Velde (1937-2008) was, with his unique songs, the voice and the conscience of the city of Antwerp and its inhabitants. From 1978 until his death in 2008, Wannes' music and song lyrics took shape in his studio, in his home near the historic Antwerp city centre. In this exhibit we explore aspects of Wannes Van de Velde’s creative personality through his studio, which is now part of Museum Vleeshuis.
A painting and two drawings of the Vleeshuis (1950/2008) by Wannes Van de Velde and Stephanie De WildeMuseum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Wannes Van de Velde's was born (in 1937) and raised in the shadow of the Vleeshuis, then part of the harbour and red-light district.
Wannes grew up in a warm, supportive family. Wannes' father, Jaak Van de Velde, was a metal worker and a talented amateur singer. His mother, Stephanie De Wilde, was a homemaker, but she had once dreamt of becoming an actress and looked for other ways to express herself artistically. For example, through painting. Stephanie De Wilde worked in a naive, direct style, as can be seen in this painting of the Vleeshuis.
The two drawings next to the painting were made by Wannes himself, when he was 12 years old.
A photo of Wannes Van de Velde, ca.1967, as found in his studio (1966/1969)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Music making played an important part in the lives of Wannes and his parents. Growing up Wannes became interested in popular music, folk songs and music from the oral tradition.
Wannes' first own song, the “Song of the Nose” (“Lied van de Neus”), was a folk-like song. In the song The Nose, a character from the traditional Antwerp rod puppet theatre, protests against the demolition of the centuries-old quarter surrounding the Vleeshuis. Many of Wannes' later songs have a strong social and progressive message.
A guitar, bequeathed to Wannes Van de Velde by Frans van Haver (1978/2008)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
In 1952, Wannes Van de Velde met the sculptor and musician Frans Van Haver. Van Haver gave Wannes his first guitar lessons, showed him a sincere and authentic singing style and brought him into contact with old (folk) songs, as compiled in Edmond de Coussemaker's "Chants populaires des Flamands de France".
The friendship gave a decisive direction to the musical development of Wannes, and many old songbooks can be found in the cabinets of the studio.
After Van Haver’s death, Wannes received the guitar as a very valuable memento of this teacher.
A photo of guitar player Sábas Gómez y Marín (1950/1965)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
In 1953 Wannes Van de Velde began his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. During the lessons drawing Wannes met Sábas Gómez y Marín, a Spanish flamenco guitarist who earned extra money as a model. Wannes wanted to learn to play flamenco music and became a student of Gómez y Marín.
"I learned flamenco from a unique master, a sober, strict man. Without many words, but with a lot of craftsmanship," Wannes would later say. Out of respect for his flamenco teacher, Wannes would always hang a photo of Sábas Gómez y Marín on the wall opposite his desk.
Wannes Van de Velde's flamenco guitar (1970) by Faustino, Mariano and Julio Conde (Workshop of Domingo Esteso)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Photo of Wannes Van de Velde, with his flamenco guitar, as found in his studio (1990/2008) by David NordenMuseum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Wannes Van de Velde during a performance with his flamenco guitar. The guitar was made by Faustino, Mariano and Julio Conde, the nephews of and successors to the famous guitar maker Domingo Esteso, in Madrid.
A music score on the desk of Wannes Van de Velde (1978/2008)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Between 1966 and 2008 Wannes Van de Velde composed or arranged over 400 songs of which he recorded many dozens.
There are of course many autograph scores and sheets with lyrics to be found in Wannes' studio, with music he wrote himself, in preparation for concerts or recordings for example. But Wannes also collected music, written by others, that inspired him, including songs from the 16th-century Antwerp Songbook or lute music by the English composer John Dowland (1563-1626).
Paintings in the Wannes Van de Velde's Studio, including a painting by Adriaan Raemdonck (1978/2008)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
On December 5, 1968, Adriaan Raemdonck (°1945) opened an art gallery, near the Vleeshuis. The gallery would be called “De Zwarte Panter” (“The Black Panther”), after the brothel that used to be located in the building. Wannes Van de Velde provided the music on the opening night.
Both Wannes and Adriaan were also gifted visual artists, and afterwards they decided to exchange paintings. Adriaan's work eventually found a place in Wannes’ studio, as did the work of many others who were important in Wannes' life.
("De Zwarte Panter" still exists today, albeit in a different location and is one of Belgium's most important art galleries.)
Material for printing (1978/2008)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
As a visual artists Wannes Van de Velde used various techniques: pencil and charcoal, oil paint, water color. He also cut his own printing blocks. A small press allowed him to make his own prints and even his own posters.
Christ and St John the Apostle, made by Master Heinrich von Konstanz, ca. 1280-1290Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
For Wannes Van de Velde , inspiration came in many forms. In his studio he kept a photo of the Christ and St John the Apostle statuette that Heinrich von Konstanz sculpted around 1285 and which is now one of the many masterpieces in Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp.
Wannes had a very complex relationship with religion and the Catholic Church in particular. But the figure of Jesus fascinated him: "Jesus was a moving, dramatic, strong and difficult man", Wannes once said.
Rod puppets in the studio of Wannes Van de Velde (1978/2008) by Wannes Van de VeldeMuseum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
De Neus (The Nose) is the protagonist of Wannes' first song. De Neus is also one of the most important characters in "De Poesje", the traditional Antwerp rod puppet theatre. (The word "poesje" is a Flemish corruption of the Italian word "pulcinella", a character from the Italian commedia dell'arte.)
One of the most famous Poesje theatres has been located in the Repenstraat, next to the Vleeshuis, since the 19th century. Wannes knew this theatre very well (he even played the guitar there). In time he drew inspiration from this tradition to create his own take on the Poesje theatre. He wrote his own plays, carved his own puppets (some of which can be seen in this photo) and participated in the performances.
Photo of Wannes Van de Velde, with a rod puppet, in his studio (1978/1995) by Arlette StubbeMuseum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Wannes in his studio, holding one of his rod puppets.
Reconstruction of the studio of Wannes Van de Velde (1978/2008)Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City
Wannes Van de Velde passed away in 2008. He left behind not only a great spiritual legacy, but also countless objects. Most of these objects were in his studio.
In 2019 the Wannes' widow and Wannes Van de Velde Heritage Organization decided to integrate the content of the studio into Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City. The name "Sound of the City" had already been adopted by the museum in 2006, as a reference to one of Wannes' most famous songs: "I want to get lost in the streets tonight, the sound of the city makes my soul amorous".
This virtual exhibit was created by Museum Vleeshuis | Sound of the City, Antwerp. Visit us at www.museumvleeshuis.be.
Music: © Wannes Van de Velde/Universal Music
Special thanks to the VZW Erfgoed Wannes Van de Velde, Nanna Cornelis and Christa Van de Velde.