Five years before the Belgian revolution, the French painter Jacques Louis David died in a building behind the Brussels opera house. A stone plaque marks the house where the radical French artist lived from 1815 until his death in 1825.
David made his name in Paris following the French Revolution. A friend of Robespierre, he supported Napoléon and painted a famous portrait of Napoléon Crossing the Alps in 1801. But he had to flee to Brussels after his hero’s defeat at Waterloo.
The exiled artist settled in a town house next to a former Dominican monastery in the heart of Brussels. The house came close to being demolished, but was saved by an action group and finally restored as the stylish Dominican boutique hotel with a secret garden at the back on the site of the old cloister.
While he lived here, David painted his last great work, which he titled Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces, which now hangs in the Belgian Museum of Fine Arts. ‘I will put my seventy-five years into it and then I will never again pick up my brush,’ the artist wrote.
David died on 29 December 1825 after being hit by a carriage as he left a theatre. His dying words are painted on the wall of the former entrance hall. ‘No one but me could conceive the head of Leonidas,’ he said.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.