1906 (Antwerp, Belgium) - 1977 (Thonon, France).
Maurice Charles Louis van Essche was born 1906, in Antwerp, Belgium, the seventh of eleven children, of whom only eight survived infancy. The family was French-speaking despite its Flemish roots; his mother's maiden name was De Ridder. He studied art at the Brussels Academy in 1924 under James Ensor, but halted his studies in 1925 for lack of funding, first working in a stained glass studio, then designing wallpaper – both of which experiences are actively reflected in many of his works. He also worked as a freelance cartoonist, but painted all the while. In 1933 he studied briefly under Henri Matisse in France, having met him by chance in an artist's supply shop in Cagnes, France. Thereafter he continued to paint and study full-time thanks to the sponsorship of his elder brother, Joseph Charles, and a group of friends.
Van Essche retired from academia in 1971, but continued to paint prolifically, despite poor health, including several heart attacks. He travelled in Europe and eventually settled near Thonon, France, at his wife's behest. His health continued to deteriorate, and he could not travel to attend his own retrospective exhibition in Cape Town in 1974. He missed Africa terribly, painting African scenes while searching in vain for local inspiration. His new themes included hippies and musicians, but he destroyed much of this work. His European landscapes from this period are dark and depressed, in stark contrast to the vibrant African scenes that flowed nonetheless. His oils continued to sell well in South Africa, and his reputation grew. He succumbed to a heart attack in June 1977 following a fall, and poor medical care.