Last month, the Bank’s art collection acquired a new canvas signed in the name of Herman Richir (1866-1942). The painting features Julien Liebaert, who was a director of the National Bank of Belgium during the First World War. It was also a source of inspiration for another picture by the same artist which can be admired in the National Bank’s Museum, namely that depicting the first meeting of the Bank’s Board of Directors after the First World War. One and the same Julien Liebaert is featured on that painting with the same facial expression as in his portrait. This painting is described below.
The painter Herman Richir was far from unknown. Back in 1914, he became the director of the Brussels Academy of Arts and was one of the most renowned portrait painters of his time. His colour paintings were a very true image of the wealthy Brussels folk in the first three decades of the 20th century. He selected his models chiefly among the upper circles and his canvasses, painted with the utmost accuracy, bear witness to his keen eye for detail.
There are two of his works of art in the former office of the governor, both of which refer to the grim years of the First World War.
A portrait of Théophile de Lantsheere adorns the wall opposite the chimney place in the office. He was the first Dutch-speaking governor, who ran the Bank from 1905 to 1918 or rather, to look at it a different way, until 1914. On 11 September 1914, Baron Colmar von der Goltz, the former German governor of Belgium, informed the Bank of the establishment of a Finanzabteilung, an all-powerful banking commission, put under the leadership of Herr von Lumm. From this date on, the Bank went through the darkest years of its history during the First World War.
The German occupiers dismissed Mr de Lantsheere from his duties because he refused to issue banknotes and give up the gold reserves. The right to issue notes was then taken away from the Bank and given to Société Générale. One of the NBB directors, Ferdinand Carlier, was arrested in July 1916, when he was getting off a train in Antwerp, and was deported to Germany without any form of trial; another director, Omer Lepreux, was arrested in June 1917 and imprisoned in the Holzminden POW camp because he had spoken out loudly against the fourth war tax.
At the end of World War I, the above-named directors were freed and able to resume their duties.
The portrait features the first general meeting of the Bank’s Board of Directors held after the war. Seated on the left-hand side is governor van der Rest, surrounded by the Bank’s secretary, Albert-Edouard Jannsen; directors Fernand Hautain and Julien Liebaert; the government commissioner Edgard Rombouts; the vice-governor Omer Lepreux; director Ferdinand Carlier; and director Fernand Jamar. Having died in February 1918, governor de Lantsheere did not live to see the end of the war nor attend this general meeting. As can be seen on the canvas, two people are sitting down while the others are all standing up. The two seated, who are also in the centremost part of the painting, are the most important, too; on the left is governor van der Rest and, on the right, vice-governor Omer Lepreux. Fernand Hautain (who is leaning over Mr van der Rest) was to be the governor’s successor.
The scene takes place in the boardroom (i.e. room 2 of the Museum, or the Board of Directors’ room), just beneath the bust of Frère-Orban, which symbolises the legitimacy and the restoration of the Board of Directors’ authority. The whole area is painted with such precision that the curtain seems to link up the boardroom symbolically with the governor’s chambers. Through this perspective, a window appears to make the premises look less austere . On the occasion of this general assembly, the Bank regained its prerogatives.
A decision was therefore taken to immediately re-open the department in charge of issuing money and take it out of the Germans’ hands. van der Rest explains in his report to the king, how the Bank has once again been entrusted with banknote issuance, even before the Germans had left the territory. In 1922, governor van der Rest’s mandate was not renewed as he was thought to be too old. Directors Julien Liebaert and Ferdinand Carlier left the scene at the same time as him.
In 1957, just before the changeover at the top of the Bank, Dumont took a photo of the Board of Directors which brings to mind the painting described above.
This photo is obviously a snapshot of this painting by Herman Richir. It was taken in the same room as that featured on the painting. The position of the characters on the photo is exactly in line with that in the painting. Like on the canvas, the governor (Maurice Frère) and the vice-governor (H. Ansiaux) are sitting down, and those standing up are more or less in the same place as on this photo. The most striking difference is the presence of a woman on the far left of the photo: the secretary, E. Malaise, who, as in the painting, is holding a notebook, most probably to take down the minutes of the meeting. You can also see that director M. Lefèbvre is leaning forward, like director Fernand Hautain in the picture. These similarities were of course no coincidence as the photographer had drawn his inspiration from the painting and reproduced the same postures.
Helena Van De Sompel
- Anoniem,, geraadpleegd op 12 augustus 2011.
- Kauch P..Théophile de Lantsheere, septième gouverneur de la Banque Nationale de Belgique 1833-1918. Extrait de B.N.B., revue du personnel de la Banque Nationale de Belgique 13e année, n°3, février 1957, 14 p.
- Kauch P..Léon van der Rest huitème gouverneur de la Banque Nationale de Belgique (1845-1932). Extrait de B.N.B,revue du personnel de la Banque Nationale de Belgique, 16e année, n°8, août 1960, 26 p.
- Pluym W.. Danneel M. et al. Het Hotel van de Gouverneur van de Nationale Bank van België. Pandora, 1995, 231 p.
- van der Rest L. . La Banque Nationale de Belgique sous l’Occupation Allemande 1914-1918. Rapport au Roi. Imprimerie de la Banque nationale de Belgique, 1918, 54 p.