De Wispelaere - generations of artists

The first descendant of this famous Bruges sculptor generation was born in 1839 in Bruges. He was named Petrus (later on Pieter) De Wispelaere. At the age of 17 he was already registered as “ouvrier sculpteur”. In 1865 he settles as a sculptor and establishes an enterprise where 4 generations will produce magnificent sculptures.

He makes sculptures as well in plaster, wood as in stone, and later on – together with his sons- in marble and bronze. In 1881 he makes for the recently established association for the new seaport of Bruges a plaster scale model showing how the new port would be like. He realizes this model following the plan and leadership of August De Maere. The scale model is exhibited during the big “Industry Exhibition of West-Flanders” in the market halls of the Bruges Belfry. Over 30.000 people come to admire it.

Together with the Bruges sculptors Goossens and Fonteyne he realizes in 1884 the float for the cavalcade in honour of the beatification by the catholic church of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders from 1119 to 1127.
Following the Bruges architect Delacenserie’s design, he realizes the monumental stone chimney for the Gothic hall of the Bruges town hall between 1895 and 1899.
Together with the famous Bruges sculptor Hendrick Pickery he works out the bas-reliefs of the gable of “The Brugse Vrije” on the Bruges Burg square.

Meanwhile two of his sons, Hippolyte (°Bruges 1868 - + Courtrai after 1956) and Alphonse (°Bruges 1879 - +1957) have mastered the craft. They help their father in the enterprise situated in the center of Bruges, in a street called ‘Westmeers’. Together with their father (who dies in 1925) and later on as “master sculptors”, the Dewispelaere family realizes a large number of religious and civilian orders as well in Belgium as in foreign countries.

We refer to the Saint-Joseph and the Saint-Augustine churches in New-York and several realizations in Boston, Toronto and New Jersey. Other works can be found in Aberdeen, Preston, Wimbledon, Kent, Carlow (Ireland) and, among many others, in Italy and Switzerland. In 1906 a spectacular, unique altarpiece was realized for the Anglican Chapel “Saint-Michael and All Angels” in the little Swiss town Caux (near Montreux). This retable is sculpted in rare boxwood. It’s realized in 3-D relief. In a magnificent way the Crucifixion of Christ on the Golgota and, below, The Last Supper are represented by about 40 figures.
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In Bruges they work for the St Saviour’s Cathedral and the churches of St James and St Walburga, for the Episcopal palace, the high schools Saint-Leo and Saint-Louis and for many other buildings. They also produce quite a lot of religious art for places in the environment of Bruges (for example Oostkamp and Ruddervoorde among other places). Even at the Belgian coast and in different places in the whole province of West-Flanders (for example even Zarren and Poelkapelle!) works of the De Wispelaeres can be admired.

The destructions of many places and buildings caused by WWI require the rebuilding or reconstruction of quite a lot of ecclesiastical buildings and sculptures. The De Wispelaere enterprise plays an important role in these reconstructions and rebuildings.
Not only in West-Flanders but in all the Belgian provinces lots of realizations of this enterprise can be found.

In addition to the numerous ecclesiastical realizations the De Wispelaere enterprise also produces civilian works, such as interiors, lots of furniture, chairs, armchairs and sofas. Plaques of honor and medaillons also belong to their work. These can for example be seen in the charming Church of the Potterie and in the street called “Minderbroederstraat”. Here a commemorative plaque by De Wispelaere was unveiled in 1946 in honor of the young resistance fighter Raoul Meertens who had been executed, 19 years old, by the Germans in 1944.

A letter heading from 1909 mentions the enterprise as following:
P. De Wispelaere and Sons, Sculptors, Westmeers 144, Bruges.
Sculptors in wood and stone. Luxurious cabinetwork. Decoration for Churches and Saloons in various styles.”

On a later dated publicity card is mentioned:
“Enterprise established in 1865. CIVILIAN and RELIOUS ART. House DE WISPELAERE SCULPTURE ART. Cabinetwork, furniture, decoration and sculptures of all kind. Statues in palster, wood, stone, marble and bronze; objects in ivory.
Specialised in furniture for churches all styles. Restoration of old furniture and statues.”

Another son, François (Bruges °1870 - + 1939), follows in his father’s footsteps.
His son Paul (Brugge ° 1930) and his grandson Daniël (Brugge °1955) follow in their father’s/grandfather’s footsteps as well.
From 1948 onwards Paul is trained by his uncles in the family enterprise. Daniël now teaches in the Bruges Training Institute called “Syntra West”.

At the end of the XXth century the De Wispelaere enterprise closes its door definitively.

In artistic circles this workshop is considered as manufacturers of an exceptionallly qualitative and highly appreciated production.