Frans Verhaak, born in 1918 in Dordrecht, moved to Roosendaal in Brabant as a child where he grew up. Following his interrupted secondary school years, he attended courses in drawing, stone- and woodcarving and sculpture at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp in 1937 – ‘38. His studies ceased after just one year due to conscription which, because of mobilisation, lasted longer than usual.
Shortly after liberation, Verhaak worked in the studio of sculptor Albert Termote in Voorburg for a short time and then followed lessons at the art academy in Rotterdam. Nevertheless he considered himself autodidact.
In 1950 he established himself as independent artist in Breda and in 1957 was invited to teach at the newly established sculpture department at the art academy in Tilburg, where he would teach parttime until 1981.
Together with Jan Vaes and Piet Verster, Frans Verhaak belonged to the group of younger Breda artists who, in 1953 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the ‘Jeroen Bosch’ artist’s society, decided to break away to form a new artist’s society ‘De Zuiderkring’, which existed until 1963.
In 1952 Verhaak took part in the international competition for a “Monument for the Unknown Political Prisoner” organized by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Out of 105 competitors from the Benelux he won 3rd prize (1st prize – Wessel Couzijn, 2nd prize – Hans Verhulst). In the same year the 3rd prize for a crucifixion statue in the “Hundred Years Kromstaf” contest was his and he received an honourable mention with his entry “Preludium” for the Provincial Art Prize of North Brabant.
During the post-war years of reconstruction, religious commissions played an important role in his work, his oeuvre being characterized mainly by religious themes (Anna-te-drieën, Piéta, Madonna and apostle figures). An apostle group in bronze was displayed in the Vatican Pavilion at the world exhibition Expo ‘58 in Bruxelles.
In the mid-sixties Verhaak received various commissions for work in public spaces. He experimented with constructivist metal sculptures, the largest of which was created for the Leyendaal Technical School in Tilburg (1965). This monumental sculpture, measuring 14 metres high, was constructed from horizontally and vertically arranged triangular planes. In 2000 the school was demolished and, unfortunately without any notification or consent from the artist’s family, the sculpture was also destroyed.
Monumental objects, however, were exceptional. Verhaak’s studio space was limited and the greater part of his work consisted of smaller sculptures – torso’s, abstract female figures and small to medium-sized abstract forms. This was the work which was exhibited in group and solo exhibitions at the galleries Willy Schoots, Hüsstege and Van de Loo, all in Brabant.
He worked mostly in plaster and wax (for models in bronze) but also sculpted in stone which he preferred to do in a small secluded space behind his studio.
In the seventies Verhaak picked up the paintbrush and, apart from a few exceptions, painted on paper. In his paintings and drawings, as in his sculptures, he gave form to abstract human figures and experimented with geometrical shapes, structures and forms. Whereas his choice of colour was subdued, using muted brown and grey tones at the onset, in later years his paintings became increasingly colourful and vibrant showing more vitality and freedom of expression.