Jan Zonder Vrees - 'De Gestolen Neus' (1970).

Willem Dolphyn was a Belgian painter, illustrator, cartoonist and comic artist. Best known as a fine artist, he was specialized in still life paintings. Early in his career, Dolphyn made the pantomime comic 'Polo' (1958-1960s) for Clip magazine. Later he collaborated with editorial cartoonist Joke on a humorous comic book series based on the Flemish folklore hero 'Jan Zonder Vrees' (1970-1971).

Early life and career
Willem Leo Jan Dolphyn was born in 1935 in Antwerp. His father was the realistic painter and portrait artist Victor Dolphyn (1909-1992) and his maternal grandfather the Flemish novelist Willem Elsschot. In 1950, the fifteen year-old Willem Dolphyn enrolled at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts, where the fine artists Gustaaf de Bruyne, Anton Mastboom, Julien Creytens and his own father were among his teachers. Later in the 1950s, he continued his studies at the National Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Antwerp.

From his father - the founder of a new Classic School of Traditional painting - Dolphyn inherited a keen understanding of composition, detail and color. He was especially known as a traditional oil painter, specialized in classical still lifes, praised for his precision and skill in adding textures and light. Throughout his career, his work was exhibited in his home country and abroad, for instance in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Monaco, the United States and Japan. Between 1964 and 1968, Dolphyn was a teacher in portrait and figure painting at the Academy of Mol. Between 1979 and 1985 Dolphyn was an art teacher at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Berchem, Antwerp. In 1995 he was named Cultural Ambassador of the city of Antwerp. One of Dolphyn's lifelong dreams was to make a large, panoramic painting of the Antwerp skyline. On 19 May 2009, after one year and four months' labor, he completed this painting. Today it can be viewed in the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) museum in Antwerp.

Cover illustration for the 1969 novel 'Jan Zodner Vrees en de Vreemde Spionnen'.

From 1954 on, Dolphyn was a productive illustrator of children's books and school books, working for publishers like De Nederlandse Boekhandel, De Sikkel and Van In. He livened up the pages of Gerard Walschap's 'Manneke Maan: Een Verhaal voor Jong en Oud' (1954) and 'Janneke en Mieke in de Oorlog' (1955), Jan Peeters' 'De Uil Wist Het' (1958) and Jan Bruylants' 'De Vrolijke Daden van Keizer Karel' (1972). Most notably, Dolphyn was the regular illustrator of books by Wim Valkenaar and Karel Verleyen. He provided drawings for Valkenaar's 'De Eerste Wapenfeiten van Jan Bart' (1970), 'Slaaf Op De Galeien' (1971) and 'De Vuurdoop' (1972) and for Karel Verleyen's 'Schaak Aan De Admiraal' (with J.F. De Craene, 1971) and 'De Tempel van Verisjna' (1972). From the late 1960s throughout the 1970s, Dolphyn also illustrated a long-running children's book series about the Antwerp folklore character Jan Zonder Vrees, written by Karel Verleyen, Frank Gysen and Aster Berkhof and published by L. Opdebeek.

'Polo' strip for Clio magazine.

Besides painting and illustration, Dolphyn also ventured into cartooning. From 1958 on, he made the pantomime comic strip 'Polo' for Clio, a magazine about history education. Starting in the first issue, each episode showed the main character in a different historical era. Dolphyn continued to make educational and humorous drawings for Clio until 1977.

Jan Zonder Vrees
Already a cover illustrator for the novels, Dolphyn also worked on a comic series about 'Jan Zonder Vrees' ("John the Fearless"), a character from Flemish folklore, popularized by the 1910 children's book written by Constant de Kinder. The stories are set in 15th-century Flanders, where Jan is depicted as a fearless strongman, who happens to have the same nickname as the historical Bourgondian duke John I. Prior to Willem Dolphyn, other comic adaptations of 'Jan Zonder Vrees' were made: one by Jan Waterschoot (1940s) and Roderyck (early 1960s). For his 1970s take on 'Jan Zonder Vrees', Dolphyn worked in a steady collaboration with Jo Lagrillière - better known as editorial cartoonist Joke - who did the inking and background art. The two men were credited with playful anagrams of their names, W. Dollière and J. Lagryphin.

While Waterschoot and Roderyck made serious adaptations of the 'Jan Zonder Vrees' novels, the Dolphyn-Lagrillière version was more humorous and playful, presenting the main stars Jan Zonder Vrees and his good friend Dokus as a comical duo. The first two stories, 'De Gestolen Neus' (1970) and 'De Vliegende Brandstichters' (1971), were scripted by Ever Hulst (pen name of E. Verhulst). The third and final comic story, 'Gunnars Goudstuk' (1971), was written by Karel Verleyen - author of several original 'Jan Zonder Vrees' novels, but also a comic scriptwriter for Hurey, Jean-Pol, Rony Heirman and Jan Hoet. 'Gunnars Goudstuk' is by far the most outlandish story in the comic series, bringing the medieval Flemings all the way to pre-Columbian America, where they meet Native Americans.

From 21 April 1970 until 1971, Dolphyn and Lagrillière's 'Jan Zonder Vrees' comics were serialized in the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet. In 1970 and 1971, three book collections were published; in Flanders by De Nederlandse Boekhandel in Antwerp and in the Netherlands by De Zuid-Hollandse Uitgevers Maatschappij in The Hague. After creating his comic adventures, Willem Dolphyn continued to illustrate several 'Jan Zonder Vrees' novels for publisher L. Opdebeek.

Jan Zonder Vrees - 'Gunnar's Goudstuk' (1971).

Commercial art
Outside of print media, Dolphyn also lent his services to other clients. Notable early assignments were for the Antwerp Animal Protection organization, the 1958 World Expo and the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels. In 1960, Dolphyn designed stamps for the Belgian postal service, depicting 17th-century painter Nicolaas Rockox and Belgian parachutists. In collaboration with Brewery De Coninck and the Antwerp puppet theater Poesje Sint-Andries, he provided drawings of their six major puppet characters on a series of 1986 beer coasters.

Willem Dolphyn remained active as an artist until shortly before his death. He passed away in 2016 from cancer. He was 80 years old.

Family in arts
Willem Dolphyn's son Walter (1963) also became a painter. During the 1990s, Walter Dolphyn was the vocalist for the house act So What?. Willem Dolphyn designed the cover for their 1992 EP 'Broeder Jacob' - a house mix of the traditional song 'Frère Jacques'.

Books about Willem Dolphyn
In 1985, the retrospective book 'Willem Dolphyn' (Ortelius, 1985) was written by Hugo Van Reybroeck and Theo van Looij. It was reprinted in 2004.

Jan Zonder Vrees - 'De Vliegende Brandstichters' (1971).


Series and books by Willem Dolphyn in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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