Ten years after his death, the Kunsthal exhibition ‘Hugo Claus, Con amore’ presents the Belgian master in all his facets: poet, novelist, painter, dramatist, film director, socially engaged artist and ‘crafty player’. The exhibition is curated by the film director, author and admirer Marc Didden – ‘not about Claus, but for Claus’ – and sketches an idiosyncratic and highly personal portrait.

The exhibition includes original manuscripts, photographs, film and audio fragments, paintings and drawings, collections of poems and novels. Some of them are unique objects that are rarely shown, such as a sketchbook in which Claus made a superb series of new drawings at the end of his life when writing had become more difficult. Besides a selection of paintings and sketches by Hugo Claus, the exhibition also features works by artists who inspired him or who were his friends or associates, such as Karel Appel, Pierre Corneille, Asger Jorn, James Ensor and Léon Spilliaert. Visitors can also discover the original illustrated manuscript of Herbarium, the mythical collection of poems that Claus wrote in a single night for his lover at the time, the actress Ellie Overzier.

‘Con amore’ is not the classic survey spanning the whole career of Hugo Claus. The most celebrated Belgian writer penned thousands of poems, dozens of plays and many novels, of which the best-known is The Sorrow of Belgium (1983). With nine themes such as ‘Un Flamand à Paris’, ‘The Smiling People’, ‘Craving for the sea’ and ‘Rebel with a Cause’, the exhibition composes by association the picture of a man who seems to have tackled everything with love and humour. It shows the master’s greatness, his lust for life, jazz, Paris and Rome, eroticism and fascination with actresses, or as he called them ‘the smile set’, including Ellie Overzier, Kitty Courbois and Sylvia Kristel. His love of playing runs like a Leitmotiv through the exhibition. Claus often found a white lie much more beneficial than the naked truth.

Guest curator Marc Didden has been fascinated by Hugo Claus all his life. He worked with him several times and made a documentary on him in 1994. In 2013 De Bezige Bij publishing house published his tribute to the Belgian master ‘Hugo Claus. Een Hommage’.

Marc Didden: “If I think of Hugo Claus the next thought that always comes to me automatically is “Con amore”. Whenever he wrote, painted, directed actors or had to appear in public, it was always done with the greatest possible humanity. With a rare gentleness, a genial tone and a boyish smile”.