The “Baudelaire><Bruxelles” expo opens on Thursday at the Museum of the City of Brussels, located on main square in the Belgian capital, la Grand-Place, and continues until the 11th of March 2018. This exposition is inspired by the harsh words French poet Charles Baudelaire reserved for Brussels in his pamphlet “Pauvre Belgique” (Poor Belgium). It recreates the city as it then looked, through some 250 works, including paintings by Jean-Baptiste Van Moer and photographs by Charles Neyt.
It begins with a collection of phrases from the “wretched poet” that punctuate the next six sections on: the outline of the town, the Senne, whose deep blackness he describes, the local morals that hold his attention, the baroque architecture that literally maintains him captive, and the institutional defects of the young nation, which he highlights at will. The expo ends with a detour through the neighbourhoods.
“The recreated city disappeared globally in the great works of the Nineteenth Century,” explains the expo’s commissioner, Isabelle Douillet-de Pange. “Baudelaire lived there from 1864 to 1866, at a pivotal time for Brussels. In 1867 (year of his death – editor’s note), the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) was begun, the vaulting of the Senne …
“There are aspects of daily life that no historian ever speaks of and which Baudelaire, in his great hatred for the city, goes on to talk about, the smell of black soap, the opera glasses… “A cart drawn by a dog” is thus placed on the ground to recall “the poet who looks with a fraternal eye” at “those whom everyone avoids like the plague”.
From contemporary artist Isabelle de Borghrave, the expo features a silhouette of the author that she painted on paper. Theatre designer Thierry Bosquet, for his part, offers miniatures of the poet’s bedroom and a brothel.
Baudelaire, a key figure of Romanticism, was saddened by the fact that “love is conspicuous by its absence” and “what is called love is a mere animal gymnastic”. The literary genius also felt that “this people does not fight for ideas, it does not like them”, but, in his words, “if one were to write that Belgium is not perfect, one would be stoned!”
For Brussels’ alderman responsible for Culture, Karine Lalieux, Belgium has changed since then. “We’re able to laugh at ourselves and we’re also able to distance ourselves from what is said of us,” she notes. “That shows how much Brussels, today, is capable of accepting that”.