November 21, 2019

Uncovering art

Removing layers of wallpaper, glue, and dirt. Precision work that requires a great deal of patience. A painstaking job. And an art in itself. Since Wednesday 13 November, Angelique Friedrichs from the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) foundation has been uncovering Harry (Henri) Schoonbrood’s mural in Maastricht’s railway station centimetre by centimetre to restore it to its former glory. Created in 1961 at the request of what was still called the N.V. Porselein- en Tegelfabriek Mosa (Mosa Porcelain and Tile factory) and the Kristalunie glass factory, the advertisement mural displays a colourful and artistic composition made up of well-known porcelain and glasswork products.

An icon of its time

It was Hans Wijnen, connoisseur and art lover, who brought this work to the attention of the Dutch Railways. He explains, ‘Schoonbrood (28 July 1898 - 10 November 1972) was an ornamental painter with ambitions. In 1926, he started studying at Maastricht’s secondary school of arts and crafts (then called the Stadstekeninstituut) where he was taught by the well-known artist Henri Jonas and could count Charles Eyck as one of his peers. A gifted student, he moved on to the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten (National Academy of Visual Arts) in Amsterdam where he specialized in glass art, murals, and mosaics. He became well-known not only in Maastricht, his hometown, but also throughout the Netherlands, where he was highly regarded and appreciated. Initially, his paintings were lyrical and poetic and adhered clearly to the illustrative and narrative style of Limburg. After the war, however, his work gradually changed to become more stylized and abstract, and he altered the way that he used colour and lines. Schoonbrood always worked with innovative ideas, continued in the footsteps of previous modern artists, and embraced abstract expressionism.’

Schoonbrood’s repertoire is not only diverse in nature. Throughout the Netherlands, he left behind a trail of works with a clear signature in public buildings, such as churches, the former school of midwifery in Heerlen, the hall of the Maastricht Academy of Music, and the office of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in The Hague. This was also a necessity. Not only did he have ambitions as an artist, but he also had a family to support. So he worked hard on commissions for listed buildings, produced stained glass and leaded glass windows, created mosaics, drew book illustrations and posters, and painted landscapes, portraits, and city scenes.

Calling card for Maastricht railway station

With his contemporary leanings, Schoonbrood also eagerly took on the commission for the mural in Maastricht railway station’s restaurant and did what he was good at: filling monumental canvases and playing with light and colour. As a true Maastricht local, he was familiar with the culture of Maastricht and Limburg and the ceramic industry; his art is a conscious reflection of this. Although the mural in the station building is clearly an advertisement, Schoonbrood knew exactly how to emphasize its decorative elements. Wijnen explains, ‘You can clearly recognize the artist’s hand from its composition, colours, and familiar items. Even on a surface area measuring eight by three metres. Schoonbrood was a master at finding just the right balance between advertisement and art. The strong but softly contrasting and illuminating colours that draw your attention to the products - from delicate glasswork to elegant porcelain - are a feast for the eyes. Everything he has brought together in this one image fits together. No part of it is obtrusive. On the contrary, this work is an absolute enhancement for the space, for the entire station. It’s an eye-catcher that is well worth restoring.’

Tight deadline

It is now Angelique Friedrichs’ task to uncover this extraordinary mural from all the layers of wallpaper and dirt in just three weeks, so that the depicted porcelain and glasswork of well-known designers such as Verboeket (glass artist), Edmond Bellefroid (porcelain), and Andries Copier (glass artist) can shine once again. Friedrichs has to work meticulously. Although the wallpaper comes off easily in some places, it pulls off pieces of paint with it in others. When this happens, she immediately stops removing the wallpaper and uses various techniques to try and reinforce the bottom layer of the illustration and soak the wallpaper loose. However, some damage here and there is almost inevitable. But Friedrichs does not shy away from this problem either. Armed with a Pantone colour fan deck, she traces the colours that were used so that the illustration can be restored once the wallpaper glue residues and other dirt have been removed. In this way, more and more of this huge mural is gradually being made visible and restored to its former glory. We are looking forward to its unveiling in the first week of December.