Le Drapeau Rouge, 2 February 1935. The cartoon shows how in Belgium capitalists are in power, oppressing the proletariat, while it's the other way around in the USSR. 

War van Overstraeten, also known as WVO, was a Belgian painter and co-founder of the Belgian Communist Party. He was later thrown out and established his own, unsuccesful splinter party. While most famous as a representative of the animist art movement, Van Overstraeten also designed communist propaganda posters, some of which depict sequentially illustrated narratives.

Early life and career
Édouard Van Overstraeten was born in 1891 in Wetteren, but spent most of his youth in Lommel. Despite being born in a bourgeois family, he developed social consciousness and interest for the common people. He took evening courses at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. He subsequently worked for the "Cuivre et Zinc" company in Lommel, but after a pay dispute he returned to Brussels by 1909. Van Overstraeten became a member of the young socialist movement Jeunes Gardes Socialistes/Socialistische Jonge Wacht, associated with the social-democratic party P.O.B (Parti Ouvrier Belge/Belgische Werkliedenpartij). Two of his friends, Paul-Henri Spaak and Camille Huysmans, would become Prime Ministers in the 1940s. Van Overstraeten used his artistic talent to illustrate the anarchist magazine En Marge.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out, which led to a worldwide increase of Communist idealists. By January 1920, Van Overstraeten and several other sympathizers left the P.O.B. and founded the Groupe Communiste de Bruxelles/Brusselse Communistengroep. On 4 September 1921, all small Communist parties in Belgium fused into one and became the Belgian Communist Party K.P.B. Joseph Jacquemotte (father of André Jacquemotte) was co-founder. Van Overstraeten became secretary, but also designed several of the propaganda posters. Most were modelled after Soviet posters, complete with similar symbolism and sequential "before/after" illustrations, showing potential voters how their life could improve. In 1923, the party leaders were accused of conspiring against the state, but were acquitted in a trial. Van Overstraeten was elected as first representative of the people for the K.P.B., but grew increasingly more critical of their Stalinist ideology, as he was a Trotsky supporter. By 1928 he was thrown out of the party. Van Overstraeten tried to establish his own party, named Opposition Communiste/Kommunistische Oppositie, but after disastrous election results, he disbanded his party and political ambitions altogether.

Painting and anarchism
From then on, Van Overstraeten focused on painting, evolving from an expressionist towards an animist style. During the 1930s, he painted landscapes in Spain, France and Italy, while writing articles for the anarchist magazine Le Rouge et Le Noir. In 1934 he co-wrote the pamphlet Manifeste Pour Le Renouveau du Socialisme, which promoted the establishment of anarcho-socialism in Belgium. Once again, he disagreed with his fellow members and left Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1936. In a new manifest, Communauté, he surprised many by suddenly leaning towards Christian personalism. During World War II, Van Overstraeten saw no qualms in exhibiting his artworks in Nazi Germany, which led to accusations of collaboration after the Liberation. He managed to convince the national commission that he merely did all this out of fear of being persecuted for his past as a communist politician.

Final years and death
Between 1961 and 1974 he lived in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, and then spent his final years in Bruges. He passed away in 1981.

Series and books by War Van Overstraeten in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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