VISUAL AND MATERIAL CULTURE OF THE MECHANISED VEHICLE INDUSTRIES IN THE BELGIAN INTERWAR PERIO
Belgium was one of the most devastated and looted countries at the end of the First World War. Yet the interwar period started with the optimistic notion of progress that was, however, tempered in the 1930s by the financial crisis and a revival of conservative thought ending in the debacle of the Second World War. Concepts of democracy, welfare and prosperity became central to society, stimulated by the industrial and technological progress, and the mass production. With rising living standards, mechanised private transport, more specifically automobiles and motorcycles, evolved from an exclusive gadget and status symbol of the happy few to a daily transport for a growing public. During this period, Belgium had an extensive, but artisanal, mechanised vehicle industry with a diverse range of motorcycle and car brands, such as Imperia, Minerva, FN, Saroléa, and Gillet.
During the interwar period, the arts were thoroughly shaken up under the influence of photography, cinema and the increasing opportunities for reproduction. The boundaries between fine and applied arts blurred, and the importance of functional design increased. Many avant-garde artists and architects saw these developments as an opportunity, no longer standing on the side-lines of society, but in the centre as an avant-garde guiding the people towards a new living environment. They admired mass production and the machine, as well as speed and movement. From this perspective, the artists' fascination with the aesthetics of mechanised vehicles made sense and led, among others, to car designs by internationally renowned architects such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius. Belgium also had numerous avant-garde movements that shared this admiration, although this aspect of their oeuvre has not been explored yet.
But the fascination for movement and speed means more than the design of a car or a motorbike, it is the creation of a world around the phenomenon of private transport, encompassing both the design of the vehicles and the necessary merchandising, sales and maintenance. This research focuses on the interplay between Belgian artists and architects, and Belgian manufacturers of mechanised private vehicles.