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St Jude’s has three paintings by the Belgian artist brothers Karel and Barth Verschaeren.
Karel was born in Mechelen in 1881. He fled to England at the beginning of the First World War and lived and worked as an artist and picture restorer in the West Hampstead area. He then moved to the United States where he married in May 1916 and, after achieving some success, died in 1928.His paintings of the high altar and Lady Chapel at St Jude’s can therefore be dated fairly precisely to 1915/early 1916.
Barth Verschaeren (1888-1946) painted a picture of the nave. He travelled with his brother to England and America, before returning to Belgium in 1921 to become one of the best known Flemish artists of the inter-war period. Barth remained in Belgium during the Second World War, taking up an official teaching post during the occupation, and exhibiting both at home and in Germany. After the war, accused of collaboration, he fell into depression and ended his own life.
Many Belgians fled to England during the war and both Letchworth Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb seem to have made a special effort to give them refuge. Henrietta Barnett herself set an example by making the house next door to her own in South Square available, although she was disappointed with their “dirty habits” when they arrived. The Institute laid on special classes for the Belgians, but the Suburb children pelted them with stones. It is probable that the Verschaeren brothers got to know St Jude’s through their fellow countrymen on the Suburb, although they seem to have had no connection with other Belgian artists in exile and did not take part in group exhibitions of Belgian artists held in this country during the war.