Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:
In the 1930s, when the Nazis took power in Germany, Frans Masereel’s works were almost immediately given the “degenerate” label and banned. Masereel and his wife fled to London and then Paris. During the German occupation of France, they assumed false identities and lived in hiding, traveling from town to town until the war’s end. In 1949, Masereel settled in the old port in Nice, where he lived quietly until his death in 1972.
War, affirmed Thomas Mann, was the inspiration behind Masereel’s art. This is a funny observation to make about an artist who was a devout pacifist. Of himself, Masereel said, “If someone were to wish to sum up my work in a few words, he could say that it is dedicated to the tormented, directed against tormentors in all areas of social and spiritual life, it speaks out for the fraternity of humanity, turns against all whose aim is to set people at odds with each other or incite conflict, it is addressed to those who desire peace and despise warmongers.” Like many European artists of his generation, Frans Masereel was in physical exile. But he was, as a pacifist during two great wars, a spiritual exile. In refusing to take up arms, Frans Masereel spent much of his life watching.
Throughout his career, Masereel found himself in the curious position of re-creating scenes of war in which he did not actually fight. Although he was, as Mann said, very much influenced by war, the primary tension in Frans Masereel’s work is that of an artist caught between the roles of participant and observer.