Oil painting "Mrs Marie Abts manufactures the first Belgian flag", 26 August 1830, by Emile Vermeersch

Oil painting "Mrs Marie Abts manufactures the first Belgian flag, 26 August 1830", by Emile Vermeersch

Olieverfschilderij op doek : “Madame Marie Abts vervaardigt de eerste Belgische vlag, 26 augustus 1830”, door Emile Vermeersch (België, 1830)

Technical data

Artist Emile Vermeersch
Date 1926
Made in Brussels, Belgium
Style Neoclassicisme
Technique Oil on canvas
Dimensions 114 cm (W) x 144.5 cm (H)
Where to be seen within the War Heritage Institute Royal Military Museum, Dutch Gallery


The first Belgian flag

The performance of the opera The Mute of Portici on 25 August 1830 in Brussels is the proverbial straw that breaks the revolutionary camel’s back: the region that not much later becomes Belgium rebels against the Northern Netherlands. The insurgents do away with everything that refers to the Northern Netherlands and fly a French flag as a symbol of the French Revolution’s values and freedoms curtailed by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-1830).

On 26 August two Brussels journalists come upon this French flag flying in the streets. The sight unnerves them, as Belgium is not supposed to once again become French. They go to a fabric shop on the corner of the Marché aux Herbes and the rue de la Montagne in Brussels and ask the owner to quickly manufacture a new flag in the Belgian tricolour.

The painting depicts exactly this scene. Mrs Marie Abts, in the centre, sews the first Belgian flag. To her right are Edouard Ducpétiaux and Alexandre Théodore Van Hulst-Serraris. On the left we see two armed civilians with bayonets on their rifles. One of these two gentlemen is Lucien Jottrand, who, along with Ducpétiaux, is considered the flag’s designer. Van Hulst-Serraris, a War Ministry employee, carries the flag through the city, after which Jottrand and Ducpétiaux hang it in the town hall.

Did you know that...

this painting was realised almost a century after the events it illustrates? Mrs Abts worked as a governess for Count Cavens, who probably commissioned this painting. Vermeersch had previously already painted his portrait. The Museum of the city of Brussels owns a variant of this painting by Emile Vermeersch: it shows Marie Abts handing over the first Belgian flag to Edouard Ducpétiaux.

What makes this painting about the first Belgian flag a top piece?

This painting depicts an important stage in Belgium’s birth and history. It symbolises the creation of the Belgian kingdom. The creation of this particular tricolour constitutes a chapter in the story about the successive Belgian flags and the design eventually selected.

-Vera Bras – collection manager Fine Arts/Iconography, War Heritage Institute