Carte De Visite
Place du Musée
Collectie Marc De Clercq
Charles Francois Felu was born in Waermarde, western Flanders, on June 26, 1830, the third son of a tax collector and his wife. Though discouraged by the birth of a disabled son, Charles' parents, especially his mother, were patient and devoted. One day, when Charles was a small boy, he was sitting with his mother in a meadow, eyeing a tuft of daisies that he was unable to pick for want of hands. His mother became aware of his frustration, removed his socks, and placed a bouquet of the flowers between his toes. She later placed a ball between his toes so that he could learn to play ball with his two brothers, and had a special bench built so he could learn to balance on one foot while using the other to toss a ball or perform other tasks. Impressed by her son's intelligence and readiness to learn, she placed a pencil between his toes, and she and her other two sons taught the young Charles to draw, thus beginning his career as the Armless Artist.
Although Charles received a traditional literary education and graduated with honors, his heart remained in painting. In 1859 he was accepted to the Academy of Antwerp, under the tutelage of Master Henri Leys. He especially excelled at portraiture and painted the likeness of the actress Victoria Lafontaine. He also evidently gave exhibitions of his skills, performing the usual tasks of the armless wonder such as shaving, playing billiards, cards, and dominoes, and cutting meat and eating it. He made his primary living by selling copies of famous paintings by the Dutch and Flemish masters.
A favorite among prominent people of the day, Felu became a member of the Royal Order of Isabelle the Catholic, an exclusive knighthood conferred upon him by the Queen of Spain after she witnessed him painting. He was also beloved by King Leopold II of Belgium, who liked to stop and chat with Felu at the painter's workshop in Old Antwerp. Felu had established the studio to coincide with the Exposition of 1894, but sadly he was unable to make enough sales to cover his expenses and fell into poverty.
After suffering a long illness he died, aged 69, on February 5, 1900, in his home on the Rue de la Breche in Antwerp.