Marcelle van Caillie was born in June 1919 (contrary to the widely published year of birth as 1922) to a mother newly returned from First World War active service in the French secret service. The maternal duties that presented themselves in the family home on the outskirts of Bruges were not embraced by Marcelle’s trailblazing career mother. Marcelle was largely raised by the family’s cook and found the kitchen in the affluent household to be her true home. The trees in the wood on the family estate became her playground and her closest allies.
Second World War Brussels (with her mother back in active service) presented Marcelle with an opening to a significant career of her own, achieving as a recent pupil of Othon Friesz in Paris, a solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in October 1941. This modernist institution had offered female artists solo exhibitions in the 1930s but Marcelle’s exhibition at the age of just twenty one was significant.
The second world war bought haunting loss too: her childhood forest playground that she and others hoped to save from the Nazi policy of destroying landscapes that might harbour resistance fighters was cut down (now the Sint-Kruis district of Bruges).
Migration became Marcelle’s path to happiness and security with a British serviceman she met in her mid 30s in 1954, a lover who offered her a modern respect for woman, encouragement in her career and unconditional love that the architect she had married just after the war had not shown his younger wife. In 1955, Marcelle became one of a minority of women who took on the establishment to fight for freedom in her choice to divorce, to maintain access to her young daughter and to forge a career with a move to Britain to be with the partner of her choice.
In London her practice changed, unrestricted by her previous portrait clients’ tastes. She explored experimental avant-garde techniques and achieved gallery exposure and critical attention across Europe, reviews in archives existing by Georges le Breton, Pierre Rouve, Sheldon Williams, Eric Newton, Alastair Gordon, Conroy Maddox and Max Chapman. In the mid 60s, Van Caillie's health began to deteriorate and she gradually faded from view.
In the centenary year of her birth, there is renewed interest in this significant twentieth century female artist with the locating and exhibiting of her work.