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Anglo-Belgian Memorial

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File WORK 20/131 gives us information on the Anglo-Belgian Memorial. This stands on the Victoria Embankment. This memorial was a gift from the Belgian nation to thank Great Britain for their assistance to Belgium in the 1914-1918 war. It was unveiled on the 12th October 1920 when Leon Delacroix, the Belgian Prime Minister, offered the memorial to the British nation, the gift being formally accepted by Lord Curzon. The actual unveiling was performed by Princess Clementine of Belgium. The memorial was erected as a token of gratitude by Belgian people who had found refuge in England during the German occupation of their country.

The file opens with a letter dated 21st October 1918 from a committee who had given themselves the name "Le Monument Belge" stating that they were ready to present the memorial to the British nation , expressed their acceptance of the site proposed "opposite Cleopatra’s Needle" and ends with a letter dated 28th August 1922 from the Office of Works to the London County Council.

During the time covered by this correspondence the memorial was sited, its composition agreed, erected, unveiled and funds provided in payment for it.

There is correspondence involving the London County Council, whose agreement to the site of the memorial was necessary, the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield who was responsible for the design, from the sculptor, from the Anglo-Belgian Union, the Belgian Embassy in London, and the Belgian Government in Brussels. There is also correspondence from William Kirkpatrick, the Manchester Granite and Marble Works who were commissioned to erect the memorial.

The central bronze group was the work of the sculptor Victor Rousseau and it emerges that a sculptor from the Royal College of Art called Francis was to work on the initial carving of the side figures representing "Honour" and "Justice" as well as the shields representing the regions of Belgium. Rousseau would supply models of the figures and shields for Mr.Francis to work on, and would finish off the faces and heads of the two figures himself.

In the file is a diagram showing where Rousseau wanted the shields positioned. There were nine shields in all and some wreaths. The shields represented Brabant, Anvers (Antwerp), Liege, Hainault, Namur, Limbourg, Luxemburg and two for Flanders.

In the file is a letter dated 10th January 1920 from the Belgian Embassy in London stating that Rousseau, had seen the bronze at the founders ,Messrs.Burton, and was very happy with it.

In July 1920, and whilst the memorial was still being worked on, we learn that intruder[s] had entered the site of the memorial and damaged the plaster models of the two figures of “Justice” and "Honour" and some of the shields with a hammer. Thereafter and until the unveiling, a nightwatchman was employed to guard the site.

The memorial then features bronze figures representing a Belgian woman accompanied by a boy and a girl both carrying garlands. The inscription below reads “To the British Nation from the grateful people of Belgium, 1914-1918”.As part of the Portland Stone surround we see two figures of a man and a woman. One represents "Honour" and the other "Liberty". Sadly the figures have become worn after years of exposure to the London traffic as have the shields. Below are recent (June 2007) photographs of the bronze group and of the two figures. The bronze remains a magnificent work it having at least weathered the elements.

Victor Rousseau lived from 1865 to 1954. He was born at Feluy-Arquennes, in the province of Hainault, the son of a stone-cutter. He studied from 1879 to 1880 at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and won the Godecharle prize in 1890 which enabled him travel to England, France and Italy. He spent two years in Paris and several months in Florence, and returned to Belgium in 1894.

From 1901 to 1919 he was Professor of Sculpture at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and its Director from 1919 to 1922 and 1931 to 1935. During his career exhibitions of his work were held in London, Madrid and the USA. He won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1911. Rousseau has works on view in Brussels, Antwerp, the Chateau de Mariemont, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Liege and Glasgow.

In 1926 Rousseau presented a statuette to the Chelsea Arts Club as a token of gratitude for the help given by the club to Belgian refugee artists during the 1914-18 war.