Thursday, 18 August 2016

Joe English (1882 - 1918) - Belgian artist and graphic designer

Joseph Alphonse Marie English was born on 5th August 1882 in Bruges, Flanders, Belgium, one of thirteen children.   His father, Henry English was Irish from Waterford and his mother, Marie Dinnewet, was Flemish from Bruges. Joe's father started an embroidery workshop in Bruges and Joe's mother was from an artistic family.  Joe studied art at the municipal college in Bruges and then at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, where he worked with the artist Juliaan Devriendt.

In 1910, Joe married Elisa Goederne, a singer and piano teacher who he met in Antwerp.  The couple moved to Bruges and had two children.

Called up to military service at the outbreak of WW1, Joe was sent to the front.  He became the official war artist of the Belgian Army and designed the headstones that commemorated the lives of Flemish soldiers killed during the war.   He also painted many pictures, designed posters and drew sketches and cartoons.  Joe died of an untreated appendicitis in the military hospital L'Océan 2 at Vinkem on 31st August 1918.   He was buried in the military cemetery at Steenkerke in Belgium.  In 1930, his body was re-buried in the crypt of the Yser Tower (Ijzertorencrypte), which was constructed in 1925.

Every year there is a Flemish national gathering called The IJzerbedevaart (Pilgrimage of the Yser) which has been held annually since 1920, the first one being held at the grave of Joe English.

Belgium is more or less divided into two parts with the capital city, Brussels, being rather more multi-cultural and where French is predominantly spoken - Flanders to the west where Flemish (Dutch) is spoken and Wallonia to the east where French is spoken and there is a German-speaking area.

My thanks to Geoff Harrison and Simon Jones for posting Joe's poster warning of the dangers of the ordnance left over from the First World War.

Pictures:  Self portrait by Joe English and the warning poster he designed.