|BENOîT GILSOUL, ARTIST
My father Benoît Gilsoul was born in Namur, Belgium in 1914. After completing his primary
studies and his Greek-Latin humanities, he entered the Acadėmie Royale des Beaux Arts,
the top Belgian Art College from which he graduated in 1938. During the six years at the
Acadėmie, my father acquired a solid artistic training. By 1933, he had already founded the
sécessionist art group: “L’Esquisse,” an influential group of young artists in Belgium that
developed into the group “Salon National des Jeunes Artistes” later on. In 1935, while still at
the Acadėmie, he collaborated in the design for the entrée Reine Astrid and the pavillon de
la vie Catholique at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. During that same year, he also
undertook an extensive study tour with Nicolas de Staël, a close friend and fellow student.
Upon graduation from the Acadėmie, my father traveled extensively in Italy, France and
Spain painting and drawing continuously.
In 1958, he become président of the Association des Artistes Belges of which he still remain
honorary président. In 1960, he was commissioned to execute the murals in the Salle de
Réception of the Belgian Line in Antwerp. Also in 1960, the Belgian government sends him
to the United States on a grant to study the artists’ situation in that country.
My father fell in love with America and upon his return to Belgium decided to resettle in New
York with his family. Since at that time, you needed someone who could vouch for you, Jean-
Jacques Duval of Duval Studio was his sponsor. Unlike other immigrants, my father was able
to secure work for himself and his family. He worked in his own field. He was hired by one of
the few studios in the U.S. that, at the time, created and produced stained glass windows in
the modern style. The Studio, Duval, understood my father’s usefulness to respond to what
would be a major artistic and architectural trend from the 1950s on. The job provided was
what my father’s would later call an apprenticeship, the introduction to a new medium of
stained glass window design and production.
His next employment was with Willett Studios which is now Willett Hauser in Philadelphia, a
major producer of traditional stained glass art who understood the radical shift in American
Sacred Art, a shift that has been under way in European countries since the 1920s.
I want to quote what E. Crosby Willett of Willett Hauser said about my father’s for his 75th
“Benoît Gilsoul arrived at the Willett Studios in Chestnut Hill on January, 1963 and from that
date until he left for New York to open his own studio, he was one of the finest artist ever
associated with our group in its 91st year history.”
Through Willett, my father was able to design major works. His first innovative contribution
was the monumental cement –glass-creation, the façade of the Tillman Chapel and the
Stained Glass; it is part of the United Methodist Church (1963).
(The chapel’s outer wall directly facing the UN bears a stained glass and concrete sculpture
of the “all seeing eye” of God symbolizing that in the midst of humanity” struggle with
destruction and violence, God is ever present. It is in turning to God that humanity is able to
escape despair and bring about peace.)
One of extraordinary achievement is the Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University,
Evanston, Illinois (1964).
His wonderful artistic and religious sensitivity deeply influenced the work of our studio from
the time until the present day. His accomplishments in a little over three years were
remarkable. Probably his highly significant work is the translation of the Ben Shahn painting
into a 34’0”x40’-0”; leaded glass window at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York (1967).
He did other remarkable projects in both leaded stained glass and faceted dalles the verre.
He not only designed these projects, but was a major influence in their exquisite execution in
both the selection of glass and the painting of the glass.
He created, designed and executed his work. He is regarded today as one the foremost
authority in the field of Stained Glass. After four years, he returned to New York and opened
his own studio and worked with different architects and studios.
Another one of famous work is the Church of St. John the Baptist (1975). The background is
a stained glass stone-and-metal window representing Manhattan Island with the East River
and Brooklyn above, the Hudson River and New Jersey below. Buildings, bridges, parks,
docks and ships can be seen the stone work of the window. The dominant colors of the
stained glass are red, symbolizing charity, and blue symbolizing spirituality and the statue:
“Christ in the City” which is above the entrance to the Capuchin Monastery Church of St.
John which is the largest outdoor religious statue in NYC. The eleven foot Romanesque
figure “Entitled Christ in the City” is polished bronze.
Before doing a job, my father would do a lot of research on the subject that was asked of
him. He then did a model or the sketches of the work that will be done to show to
committees, rabbis, or priests.
Sometimes he will redo the work two or three times until he was satisfied with his work. My
brother, Marc worked with my father for many years and was an asset.
When a job was completed and the windows installed, my father had always to do a
Description of the window(s) which took a lot of time and work. He did them in French and
my mother. Edith had to translate.
There was an exhibition at the Acadėmie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels of last year of
Nicholas de Staël when he was young. Some of my father’s caricatures were exhibited. He
was a good friend of my father, they went to the Acadėmie together and at one time they
took a trip to France, Spain and Italy on bicycles with another friend, Emmanuel d’
Hooghvorst. It was in 1935.
But most of all, my father was a painter; he loved to paint when he had the time and not
doing the Stained Glass. He did a lot of works on paper in every media. He did etched glass.
tapestries, sculptures for private collections.
He also did an ABC for children in English, an Abecedaire in French and a story with
illustrations which is called “Entretiens de ‘Chat’ par Sourismangetou”.