A hundred years ago, on 22 November 1918, King Albert I entered liberated Brussels. After four years of war, his historic address to the United Chambers ushered in a new era. A government of National Union would implement major social reforms. Universal suffrage for men became a fact.
The Senate has recreated this event looking back from the autumn of 2018 with an interactive exhibition online and a unique artistic exhibition in its stately Reading Room. What catches the eye is a unique tapestry of the Senate, Le retour victorieux du Roi Albert à la tête de ses troupes à Bruxelles le 22 novembre 1918 ("King Albert returns triumphant at the head of his troops, Brussels, 22 November 1918").
It shows King Albert I on horseback, reviewing his troops before the Palace of Nations on 22 November 1918, surrounded by his family and military commanders. The people cheer him, and Members of Parliament and other policymakers look on from the Palace of Nations' balconies.
Its captivating subject and specific technique make this work of art a must both for art lovers and for anyone interested in history.
The tapestry's story starts in 1934. King Albert I was killed in an accident at Marche-les-Dames on 17 February. The Senate resolved to commission a tapestry to honour the dead king.
Anto-Carte (Mons 1886-Ixelles 1954) was instructed to design the cartoon. This symbolic, expressionist artist's talent was already recognised internationally in the 1920s. He established the Nervia group of artists in Nervia in 1929, which was known as the Walloons wing of the Latem school, and lectured in monumental painting at the then Institut supérieur des arts décoratifs ("Higher Institute of Decorative Arts") of La Cambre.
Anto-Carte created this both historically and symbolically complex cartoon in just four months. Manufacturer Gaspard De Wit in Mechelen was given the honour of weaving this monumental tapestry: the mill completed this masterpiece in seven months. Delivering the tapestry to the Senate on 18 July 1935 definitely helped usher in a new golden age of Belgian tapestries.
From this autumn on, the public can admire this showpiece in the beautiful surroundings of the Senate; and the tapestry will also tell the story of the liberation online.
With the War Heritage Institute (the former Royal Museum of War and War History), the Senate has created a virtual exhibition. Visitors can study the tapestry using this web application. The many characters each tell a short story in four languages (Dutch, French, German, English). Together with documents from the Senate files and other historical images, the tapestry gives a beautiful, educational picture of Parliamentary life and Belgian politics in a country moving from war and destruction to peace and reconstruction.
Both the Belgian Senate's files and its art collection have remained a well-kept secret to this day; but "The colours of liberation", a virtual and in situ exhibition, lifts a tip of the veil.