One hundred years after his birth in 1930, Guido Gezelle was celebrated throughout the country. The highlight was the unveiling of the Gezelle statue in Bruges in the presence of the royal couple. And the knives came out in the run-up to the party. A vicious war of ideas broke out.
The homage to Gezelle itself passed off in peace and quiet. It was a great success. The four Gezelle days in Bruges were the grandest of all. Clements De Landtsheer recorded the event in all its glory in his Flandria film. This unique time document records the celebration and the royal couple's visit.
Watch the film kept in the VRT archives (Clemens De Landtsheer, C06075874).
The film was shown in many cinemas in Bruges, such as the “Vieux Bruges”, and it was a huge success. The Flandria film about Guido Gezelle’s life and work concentrates on the poet’s Flemish national significance. The Gezelle film fits into a series of films by De Landtsheer on "Flemish Events". For De Landtsheer it was a celebration of the Flemish cause. But was this the case for everyone?
“O Bitter Shame! Or how the Court wants to deceive the Flemish People!”
The homage to Gezelle coincided with the centenary of the Belgian state. The anti-Belgium feelings also flared up. During the preparation of the festivities the General Committee appointed King Albert I and Queen Elizabeth as honorary presidents of the Gezelle feast committee. This did not go down well with everyone.
A group of Flemish nationalists accused the royal family of wanting to recuperate Gezelle's personality after having misunderstood and oppressed the Flemish population for 100 years. They refused to participate any longer. According to them, the Gezelle homage was not a Belgian affair. The newspapers reported protests on both sides. In Antwerp, a teacher tore up the portrait of Gezelle before her students’ eyes. The pro-Belgian posters were torn down in Louvain.
The realisation of the Gezelle statue also met with some difficulties. Henry Van de Velde was responsible for the architectural design. He regarded Gezelle primarily as a precursor of a modern view on art, which emphasised the importance of the formal properties of art. That is why he had an abstract memorial monument in mind which would be placed on the city ramparts near Gezelle's birth house. The monument would be surrounded by gardens, ponds, stairs and terraces. The expressionist Oscar Jespers was requested to realise the Gezelle statue. The memorial monument would now be crowned by a massive six-meter high statue by Jespers. This met with fierce resistance.
“The best thing that Mr Vande Velde can do is to go to hell with his pretentious stuff”
The alternative design of the sculptor Jules Lagae embodied the traditional vision with emphasis on the person of the priest-poet, the realism and the educational value of his work for the Flemish people. For a little while there even was a compromise to realise both monuments and to replace Oscar Jespers with another sculptor, George Minne. Due to the Gezelle biographer Aloïs Walgrave and the writer Cyriel Verschaeve, the modernist sculpture was voted down in the committee. The organizing committee informed the king that the costs and execution would now be borne by the City of Bruges. Eventually the city opted for the more traditional statue traditional statue by Jules Lagae.
So verses I wrote, while Lagae my image
was copying carefully
And polishing me in potter’s clay
As for eternity!
It was also an advantage that Gezelle and Lagae used to know each other. They became acquainted at the end of 1894 when the young Jules Lagae made a bust of Gezelle at the request of Gustaaf Verriest. In the small poem Semel desipisse, Gezelle refers to his aversion of posing for the statue and that he would not make the same mistake twice. Sitting quietly was not like Gezelle. He noted all kinds of ideas on small sheets of paper while posing. This is how the poem Memento Homo was created with the reference to Lagae.
In addition to the Guido Gezelle statue, Lagae also made the death mask and the cast of Gezelle's hand. In 1903 he was in charge of the Gezelle monument in Courtrai, which was based on the earlier bust. Two more of such busts would follow : one in the Minor Seminary in Roeselare and one in the garden of the Gezelle museum in Bruges.