Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The art of faux bois et marbres

A few years ago, I visited Brussels (a side trip while  visiting family in the Netherlands) and made sure to stop by the Van Der Kelen Institute (Institut Superieur de Peinture Van Der Kelen Logelain), which stands very close to the city centre. The first school in Brussels devoted to the teaching of decorative painting was founded in 1882 by Pierre Logelain. In 1892, Alfred Van Der Kelen opened the second school; Van Der Kelen moved his school to its current location in 1902 into the building that is the former home of the wrought iron craftsman, Prosper Schrijvers.The two schools merged in 1951.

What gorgeous details! The doors, the lamp, the windows, the signs!

The Institute is quite impressive inside, as well. As you would expect, there are many examples of faux bois and marble on the walls. The course of study is an intense six months, with class sessions six days a week. Most students rent a room nearby. 

I was particularly interested in the classroom, as seen below. Classes are offered in French; fortunately English, German and Spanish are also available. To be so immersed in learning the art and craft of this kind of painting must be both exciting and intimidating! It is not an easy subject to master. 

The course of study, besides wood and marble,  extends to decorative panels, patinas, lettering,  gilding and trompe l'oeil. Here is Denise Van Der Kelen, the Institute's director and daughter-in-law of one of the school's founders, Alfred Van Der Kelen.
Denise stresses that the courses taught at the school are not meant to just simply copy the wood or marble, but the work is meant to be the student's own interpretation of what they see before them.

An example of faux bois (wood):

The school's preferred media is oil, but this knowledge can then get transferred to the acrylic medias that are most frequently used in the U.S.

Some of The Institute's graduates include Pierre Finkelstein, Jean Sable and Marie Vanesse.

Denise Van Der Kelen published their long awaited book, Decorative Painting the Van Der Kelen Way, last year. It is a beautiful book, full of colorful photos, that is bound to become a classic in the painting field.


While there are many excellent schools in the U.S. devoted to the teaching of decorative painting, the Van Der Kelen Institute remains one of the premier schools in the world.

    Images 4-9 courtesy of Elle Decoration, May 2010  Photos by Nicolas Tosi


  1. Well.....you just spoiled me for the day!!! You let me be a fly on the wall in the Van Der Kelen studio!!!!! Wonderful post!

  2. A unique experience! Those students must truly love their art to commit themselves to a subject so intensely. I am so fickle, I think I'd give it up after two classes. lol That's why I'm not an artist. Great post. All kidding aside, this must be a truly unique experience.