CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

De Romantiek in België

Romanticism in Belgium Exhibition: 18 March - 31 July 2005


Frederik Leen, head curator, Dominique Marechal, curator of 19th-century painting, Anne Adriaens-Pannier, curator of 19th and 20th-century drawings and Brita Velghe, curator of the Antoine Wiertz Museum

Museum press release

After a far too long hibernation, the time has now come to draw attention to a rather neglected period of the Belgian history of art, a period usually described as being that of Romanticism. This exhibition, celebrating Belgium’s 175th anniversary, is focusing on art which developed itself during the reign of Leopold I (1831-1865). A fascinating period thus, during which all kinds of new trends suddenly emerged as seeds shooting up in a conservatory.

Conceived as a whole, the exhibition is simultaneously held in three different places. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (MRBAB) are essentially showing paintings, whereas the ING Cultural Centre, at the Place Royale, is displaying drawings and sculptures. Finally, every lover of Romanticism will want to view the Antoine Wiertz Museum, a place unique in Brussels where time has seemingly stood still. For more information about the locations visit the exhibition website

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

This exhibition will not be held in the temporary exhibitions rooms as usual, but in the Museum’s building, lying at the Place Royale, which presently shelters the 19th-century collections. The visitor, after going through the Forum where Gustaf Wappers’ monumental Episode of the September Days 1830 is exhibited in its recently restored frame, will solely be able to gain access to the exhibition rooms through the underground passage leading to the Museum of Modern Art. The circuit begins with a presentation of the figure of Leopold I, as founder of the new dynasty. Thereafter, the exhibition being ideally visited from the third floor downwards, visitors will alternately see some seething scenes of the Revolution and varied historical evocations. On the second floor devoted to landscapes, the visitor will step by step see how the romantic landscape evolved into a fresh and sharply observed outdoor painting. The visitor will also be able to escape to Mediterranean regions and daydream facing colourful exotic fantasies. Further on, typical themes as love, death and even religion, will render the nostalgia of that epoch. Fine portraits of the upper classes will call to mind the refinement of Romanticism, but social problems will nevertheless not be forgotten. Finally, attention will deservedly be given to the town and town life.

Romantic drawings from Belgium at the ING Cultural Centre

A visit to the second part of the exhibition, at the ING Cultural Center, just across the Place Royale, should not be missed. This section is perfectly linked to the previous part and matches perfectly its thematic structure as it is designated to romantic style drawings and sculptures. Wonderful drawings show the artist’s sensitive and intuitive approach, from hesitating sketches to the most accomplished works of art. These unknown because not displayed treasures hold a dialogue with superb related sculptures.

The chosen works of art on display comprises among other things, 24 drawings on paper which show a rich diversity of drawing techniques as a means of expression: gouaches, aquarelles, charcoal drawings, chalk and pencil, all will leave you admiring the entire tour. Furthermore, next to major remarkable works of art, other sets will be exhibited due to their great historical value. Perfect masterful techniques, subtle virtuousness and creative romantic outbursts are found in the different progressional stages in each drawing. These qualities can also be found in spontaneous sketches, random projects, detailed studies or in audacious compositions and soulful independent works of art. Historical themes, religious or mythological, exotic fantasies, evocations of nature and portraits, form in part the main subjects in romanticism. So many preliminary studies and grand masterpieces will be on display as a unified collection to the Belgian public for the first time.

On the area where the ING Cultural Centre can be found today was built before the original old palace of the Duke of Brabant. This palace is where Charles the fifth was abdicated in 1555, but it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1731, even though efforts by brewers to save the palace, they threw beer kegs onto the flames to put out the fire, was done so in vain.

In 1775, the Austrian central power decided to change the area into a rectangular square and the renovations was done in a neo-classical style. Since the start, this square has been surrounded by luxury hotels, cafés and taverns, which made it a very lively area. Since 1949 the actual site of the ING cultural centre unites two buildings, n° 5 and n° 6, which each have their own history. The first, on the side of rue de Namur, during the 19th century became, a tavern, La Taverne du Globe, a very fashionable place which had Baudelaire as one of its’ customers. N° 6 was the resting place of the last amman of Brussels (the princes representative to the city magistrate), then it housed a carpet shop until it finally became a bank which in turn bought n° 5 in 1949 and then unified the two buildings. From 1984 the building became an exhibition place hosting also receptions.

The Antoine Wiertz Museum

Finally, every lover of Romanticism will want to view the Antoine Wiertz Museum, which has kept its period atmosphere. A place, unique in Belgium, that lends itself to meditation and where time has seemingly stood still.


The Romantic Fine-Arts movement in Belgium has not been a subject for publication for over 50 years. Therefore this catalogue is not only a supporting guide to the exhibition but aimed as a staring point for research which will deepen the knowledge on this subject. The exhibition catalogue begins with a series of interesting essays and contains 263 entries. The essays are by Frederik Leen, Dominique Marechal, Brita Velghe, Anne Adriaens-Pannier and Inga Rossi-Schrimpf. All the paintings, drawings and sculptures are reproduced in color and follow the exhibition’s thematic structure. The book ends with a city map of Brussels which proposes an historical stroll from one to another of the city’s most important statues.

The catalogue is avaliabale in French and Dutch at the Belgian Royal Museums of Fine-Arts and in book stores from 18 March 2005.
Le Romantisme en Belgique. Une sélection commémorant le 175ème anniversaire de la Belgique, Recine, 2005 (208 pages, illustrations in color and black & white)
De Romantiek in België. Een keuze naar aanleiding van de 175ste verjaardag van België, Lanoo, 2005 (208 pages, illustrations in color and black & white)