Flemish painter

Born on September 14 th, 1914, in Halle, Belgium, Guillaume Leunens was removed from the family home, as were his brothers and sisters, by social services for parental negligence. The children were placed in orphanages, with the Catholic brothers for the boys and with the nuns for the girls. At age 16, Guillaume fled the orphanage and sought refuge with his maternal aunt. There, he began to work in a foundry: his first encounters with metal. In his free time, whenever paper and pencils were available, he was taken by the irresistible urge to draw that had lived within him since his childhood.

In 1939, the Second World War broke out and Germany declared war on Belgium. Sent to the front with the Belgian army at the German border, he lost his best friend by his side in a grisly manner. The image of the latter, the head gone, continued to haunt him until the end of his days. After Belgium had abdicated, he was captured and sent to a German camp to work in a foundry. In the evening, he drew on everything he could find to change his thoughts. Following the bombing of the foundry by the allies, he was transferred to another camp in Austria.

On his return from the war, the horrors and the memories of dead mutilated bodies that he picked up day after day haunted him and had transformed him deeply. Never again would he return to work in a foundry: « I have cast enough bombs for the Germans. » He began painting and, although he is primarily self-taught, he took evening courses at the École des Beaux-Arts of Brussels. Once his mind was satiated, he would return home and paint into the early morning hours. His inspiration would come to him from the dark of the night, where quiet reigns.

However, life as a nocturnal painter does not preclude work, and in the morning, he would leave to work at the same chocolate factory as his wife. The salary was much lower than in a foundry, he could barely manage to pay for the canvases and the paint for his works. When money was too scarce, he would then opt for jute, chipboard, cardboard and various recovered materials to paint.

Around this time, he sold his first work, the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her arms, for 500 Belgian francs. This sale infused him with the sacred fire to continue painting and pushed him to pursue his career. On Sundays, he would paint in the country side, and then with various local artists. His paintings from this period are essentially old farms and landscapes.

He exhibits a few times a year in the clubs of artists. In one of his exhibitions he meets Magritte with whom he binds friendship for a few years. He likes experimenting, passing from the figurative to the abstract via surrealism. His influences include Permeke, Breughel, Picasso and Van Gogh. Criticism is laudatory and Leunens is in high demand in art galleries. Stemming from Flemish Expressionism, his art evolves towards abstract art and his meeting with Servranckx allows him to discover his own path.

He obtained a scholarship from the Belgian Government in 1957 to study Spanish artistic techniques in Majorca. There, he meets a wealthy aristocrat French woman that he will marry after divorcing his first wife. With his new wife, he is now able to dedicate all his time to art.

In 1958, Guillaume Leunens breaks from his vision of nature. It is from this point that, as one critic reported, he is able to capture the essence of the absence of light. In many experiments with painting, using heated iron and aluminum, glass or copper and even with ingredients such as ink, wax, crushed coffee grains, he stretches dark yet vibrant surfaces, whose dark aspect is rendered even more enigmatic with pale lines or coloured dots. In his best artworks, Guillaume Leunens already manages to evoke his fascination for the total night.

In 1960, he began working with the metal, being convinced that our modern time requires its own pictorial means. He then transposed his paintings onto metal, a material he has known since his youth. Aluminum canvases receive primitive geometric shapes, circles, distended squares, rectangles, diagonals, parallel lines, transversal lines, trapezoids in perspectives and diamond shapes, truncated and shortened cones. They reveal a poetic essence; despite the apparently dry geometry, they confer a strong dose of human warmth to the prosaic aluminum.

He then undertook many trips in Europe, the United States and Canada. He participated in the universal exposition in Montreal, in Canada to represent France. His works are found in public collections in eight countries and have been exhibited in a dozen others. Towards the end of the 1970s, he retired from the artistic life. He stopped doing exhibits and painted only for his pleasure, such as nature views from a small village in Gras, where he would spend the summers. He preferred to spend his time in this little town of the Ardèche, in France, where he occupied a summer house set within the foundations of an old castle. There, he cared for his garden of flowers, and wrote poems in his Flemish mother tongue. He died in 1990. Guillaume Leunens remained a Flemish artist at heart; he has never renounced his homeland even if he had exiled to France.

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