De Verloving (The Engagement)1926 by Chris Lebeau

A fresco on the wall of the Marriage Chamber in what used to be the Town Hall and is now The Grand Hotel in Amsterdam. The Marriage Chamber is where Royal and Celebrity Weddings were celebrated. The murals were completed in 1926. They were Lebeau's first murals and he was using a new kind of paint: Keimian mineral paint. "I have found wonderful paint; it adheres to the surface of the wall and no matter how rough the cement might be, we can venture to paint the finest little details," he wrote. By "we" he was referring to himself and the pupil he had assisting him, W. Cordel. Lebeau designed the walls, the ceiling and the stained glass windows on the garden site.

To a light green background, he added his contours in olive green, turquoise and purple with touches of orange and gold. The flat human figures, without the depth of perspective, a rhythmic pattern in which the lines all curve toward the oval. The bodies are elongated, the eyes, mouths and, on the nudes viewed from the front, the genitals as well are stylized and mask-like. The secondary figures are in knickerbockers and short skirts. The space between the main figures is filled with angels in long robes, singing, blowing long trumpets, or playing the harp with bizarre claw-like hands. What little space is left is filled with flower motifs and series of small angels. The ceiling is decorated in the same colours, as if you are inside a jewelry box.

Almost sticky sweet, almost hard, sentimental and cerebral at the same time, an inescapable message envelops you like a psychedelic heaven. And of course that is what it is. Here the whole pathos of community art, eastern mysticism and theosophical ethics comes at you in a form that approaches total perfection, a belated surge of what once enchanted our grandparents as Art Nouveau or Jugendstil.
Symbolism? Indeed there is not a single line that does not have some symbolic connection. The story that is told here is a simple one. A girl and boy meet and a burning heart reveals the outcome: they fall in love. The pure virgin is carrying a lily, and is not seduced by gifts like a mirror (vanity!) or the luxury of jewels, money and liquor. The pure young man to the left of the door is carrying an owl that covers his entire torso. How wise he is with his owl, and how free he is of impure desires.

A wedding is taking place on the stained glass windows, quite respectably in contemporary attire. The procession of guests coming to give the bridal couple their gifts was inspired by a wedding ceremony Chris Lebeau once attended at the court of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. As we 'read' on, we come to the southern wall, where family life, maternal care and paternal admonitions set the tone. Was this the work of an anarchist, a long-haired bohemian with an unkempt beard and bare feet in sandals? Yes, but he was an anarchist imbued with the ethos of the late nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement.
Yet the First-Class Marriage Chamber is more than the final chord of that grand symphony. What with the equal roles so automatically attributed to man and woman, the latest fashion in clothes with the stylish ladies' pumps and the way the nudes are depicted, it was modern in its own day. It seems as if the free spirit of the artist was not satisfied with the conventional conception of form and contents and tried here and there to shed the cloak of conventionality. (
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