When the night falls

Frans Masereel

Paris! Boulevards, cabaret, jazz and neon lights. Frans Masereel pulls us into the colorful nightlife of the metropolis, shrouded in a fairytale glow. His expressive style brings the vibrant 1920s to life.

Young Masereel got to know the big city and its characters at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to his friend Jules De Bruycker. He showed him the underbelly of Ghent, with its alleys, its stations and its bars. Here he discovered what dwells in the dark, often in the pitch-black night, lined by dim light.

Masereel criticized the little man's oppression and loathed war. He refused to enlist in the Belgian army and left for France. In the 1920s, he lived on a fifth floor in Montmartre, at the time the epicenter of the années folles. From up here he had a wide view, and through his binoculars he observed what was going on behind the windows of the beautiful facades.

He liked the big city, as he wrote to his parents: “Everything is much bigger here, there is more life, the distances are greater… It is a constant frenzy that is astonishing. Every step you take in Paris gives an artistic impulse – everything keeps you awake.”

“Le trottoir” depicts a crowd flooding the nighttime boulevards of Montmartre, flanked by tempting dancers in the spotlight. Passers-by are an impersonal shadow in the mass, formed by powerful black lines. The subtle coloring makes the night lights twinkle. Men get lost in a desperate search for amusement, to forget the madness of reality.