The Compagnie des Bronzes and lighting at the Hôtel of the Governor  Share

On 5 May 1850, King Leopold I gave royal assent to the bill providing for the creation of the National Bank. After being located initially in the rue Royale, the Bank decided in 1859 to construct its new headquarters in the rue du Bois Sauvage on the north side of the collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula.

Room 3 of the museum

Room 3 of the Museum

Apart from the banking services and the central cash office, the building should also contain salons and the private residence of the Governor. The architect Henri Beyaert (1823-1894) and his colleague Wynand Janssen (1827-1913) were commissioned to design the plans. The construction of the Hôtel was not fully finished until 1874. By 1871, Beyaert had already been charged with the extension of the existing complex towards the rue de Berlaimont. These works took another ten years and lasted until 1881.

The Board of the Bank also relied on the architects talent and know-how for the interior decoration and the furnishing of the different rooms, the salons and the reception hall. Everything, from the tiniest detail of the paintwork, the wooden panelling, lanterns and chimneypieces to the vertical section of the skirting-board, was studied, designed and supervised by Henri Beyaert.

Candelabrum of the tower staircase, 1881. Drawing by H. Beyaert (Photo: C. Demeter, Antwerp)

Candelabrum of the tower staircase, 1881. Drawing by H. Beyaert (Photo: C. Demeter, Antwerp)

Also regarding lighting matters Beyaerts view was often decisive. A series of matters needed to be dealt with: what source of energy (petrol, gas, electricity), the position of the equipment, its functionality as well as its artistic qualities and what firms had the competence and the reliability to bring the lighting programme to a favorable conclusion. The Compagnie des Bronzes was not forgotten by the architect. Besides, as a shareholder he was well aware of the possibilities of this belgian industrial firm. 25 June 1868 an order for 72 appliances amounting to 39,995 belgian francs was officially placed with this firm.

The Compagnie immediately started to execute the order which comprised girandoles, lanterns, candelabra and chandeliers. The grand crystal chandeliers in gold-plated bronze were the most prestigious items of the order book and forced the firm to do its utmost. They were founded according to plaster models made by Georges Houtstont (1832-1912). The Compagnie grasped the occasion of the delivery of the last items of this first large order in July 1871 to stress the importance of this “national order”. They wrote: “It is a real pleasure for us to have proved to the managers of the first financial institution of this country (Belgium) that Belgium now has a factory of its own for the production of large bronzes and thus no longer depends on foreign countries”.

Letter from the Compagnie des Bronzes to the Banque nationale, 1871

Letter from the Compagnie des Bronzes to the Banque nationale, 1871

However, when the Bank started its extension programme in 1871 and was looking for gas fittings and equipment for its new premises the offer of the Compagnie was declined in favour of one of its competitors, the Brussels’ firm E. Longueval et Cie (rue des Chanteurs 47). This time the Compagnie had fallen into disfavour with H. Beyaerts view. Henceforth the Bank diversified its lighting contracts and alternated between the Compagnie des Bronzes and the firm Longueval. From 1886 onwards the Bank introduced – after some hestitation – electricity. Other firms intervened but a small anecdote reveals that the Bank still respected the know-how and professionalism of the Compagnie at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1904, when some important adaptations and improvements were made to the lighting system, the Bank decided for the very first time to engage an electrician : Auguste Denayer, former supervisor-electrician of the Compagnie des Bronzes.

Marianne Danneel
Museum co-ordinator

Bibliography:

  • The Hôtel of the Governor, Pandora, Antwerp, 1995.
  • “Fabrique d’Art. La Compagnie des Bronzes de Bruxelles”, in Les Cahiers de la Fonderie, n° 28-29, La Fonderie, Brussels, 2004.