It was raining so hard, Brussels’ streets looked like the Yangtze or Amazon. Stepping up hill against torrents hurrying downhill, I was glad to arrive at Wiertz’ house. This is now called the Wiertz Museum and can be found on top a hill right behind the European Parliament.
Drip-drying inside the small entrance, I was received by a kind museum assistant. He seemed rather bemused but glad to have a visitor. The bad weather ensured more fled out of the rain into this weird museum.
The Wiertz Museum is one of over fifty museums in Brussels. It is one of several which can be visited for free. Not that many visitors seem to bother having a look a it, which is a bit of a shame.
The museum is dedicated to works by Antoine Wiertz. The main and most important part of the museum is his former studio. Of course this contains several of his paintings as well as sculptures.
When I mentioned to a Brussels friend, I intended to visit the Wiertz Museum, his reaction was rather interesting. According to him, Wiertz was both mad and a genius. His version of the story behind the museum and artist ensured I was even more determined to have a look.
The museum is much nicer than the European Parliament. For a start, the museum has a sprawling garden – not open to the public and not much maintained. The wild and somewhat romantic wood covering the hilltop shows what the area must have looked like, before the European Parliament was built.
The EU Parliament is of course one of those twenty-in-a-dozen blots on the landscape and modern architectural eye-sore, created in a style now spoiling practically every city the world over.
One enters the msueum by skipping up a few steps to the front door. Once inside, the small hallway contains works including drawings one can admire. Off to the right is the immense studio which contains larger-than-life canvasses and smaller art.
My friend called Wiertz clever because Wiertz managed to get the then Belgian and Dutch King William to financially support him. Later, Wiertz managed to get the Belgian government to buy the hilltop where the museum now stands. He painted his huge paintings, which never left the studio there. He ensured all was left to the state.
Wiertz created his own way of painting using specific cloth and his own mixture gloomy colours and turpentine. As for style and subject matter, think Blake and Goya in depressive moods, painting about war, poverty and worse, on a very bad day. Gothic rather than romantic comes to mind. Some works definitely are weird.
Was Antoine Wiertz mad, or clever? You will have to make up your mind after a visit. Some claim his talents were average at best. I especially loved the small tromp-de-l’oeil dog painted in a corner of the painter’s workshop. I’m sure I’m not the only visitor who loves this work best.
So if you end up near the European Parliament, why not visit this small museum? After having a look at the Wiertz Museum, you can either head for the park across the street. Cut through it towards Place Jourdan, to end up at Maison Antoine for a helping of what many claim are the best frites in Brussels. Or head downhill, back towards the EU Parliament and across the large square surrounded by its towering office buildings to visit its Parlamentarium. This can also be visited for free.