Louis Gallait (May 10, 1810 – Nov 20, 1887) was a Belgian painter. He lay at the basis of a revival of history painting in Belgium. He earned his reputation especially with the large painting of Charles V’s abdication. Gallait’s works were esteemed because of their realism, faithfulness of the costumes and color composition of his paintings. He was also a distinguished portrait painter.
Gallait was born in Tournai, Hainaut, Belgium in 1810. He first studied in his native town under Philippe Auguste Hennequin. After studying at the Royal Athenee of Tournai, he became a cleric at a lawyer-confessed. In the evening, he attended the Academy of Design in his hometown of Philippe-Auguste Hennequin.
In 1832, he obtained his first success with his painting The Denier of Caesar which earned him the prize of History to the contest organized by the Society of the fine arts and literature of the city of Ghent.
In spite of the refusal of the burgomaster, Jose de Hulste, to assure him the continuance of a subsidy of 300 francs which the city of Tournai granted him, Gallait nevertheless went to Antwerp, provided with meager resources, to complete his formation under the direction of Mathieu- Ignace Van Brée.
His Christ healing the blind, exposed in Brussels in 1833 made him known to the general public and was immediately bought for the cathedral of Tournai by public subscription.
This sale allowed him to go to Paris to study at the Louvre museum masters such as Rubens, Ribera or Murillo. He also follows the lessons of Paul Delaroche and there finds the way he would not cease to follow.
Alongside the two classical and romantic schools, represented in Belgium by François-Joseph Navez and Gustave Wappers, each followed by a line of distinguished artists, Gallait created a school of historical painting, which concentrated on the truth of The local color and the dramatic interest of the scenes. Several artists are formed at his side in Brussels, including Frédérique O’Connell.
In Paris, he exhibited at the Salon of 1835 his painting Le Serment de Vargas, which opened the order book for the Historical Museum of Versailles, to which King Louis-Philippe then devoted an important part of the resources of his civil list. It is for this collection that he paints in particular the Portrait of the Duke of Biron (Versailles), as well as Job on his manure, surrounded by his three friends and his wife (Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille).
At the same time, he sent two paintings to the Triennial Exhibition in Brussels: the Repentir and Montaigne visiting Tasso in Ferrara.
In 1841, the reputation of Gallait became European thanks to the Abdication of Charles V. (museum of the fine arts of Tournai). Begun in 1838, this vast composition of five meters by seven required three years of diligent work in documentary and iconographic researches. This painting is commissioned by the Belgian government. Exhibited in many European capitals, this work has met with considerable success, attracting a shower of honorary honors, including the Legion of Honor. Tournai triumphantly celebrates this success at a banquet organized in honor of the painter on Sunday, August 29, 1841, at the Hôtel de Ville.
The artist married on March 19, 1844, Hippolyte-Simone Picke and the couple moved to Schaerbeek. His fruitful activity as a portraitist and historical paintings puts him at the head of a considerable fortune.
Louis Gallait reaches the height of his glory with his painting Last honors given to the Counts of Egmont and Hornes, famous under the title Les Têtes coupées, a true page of history that will remain like the stigma of a state crime 1851, Museum of Fine Arts of Tournai).
From 1872 to 1877 Gallait painted the fifteen historical portraits which decorate the enclosure of the hemicycle of the Belgian senate.
Finally, in 1882, Gallait completed the Plague at Tournai in 1092 (Museum of Fine Arts, Tournai). This picture of nearly five meters by eight, to which he was already working in 1853, is a work of youth born, as he himself says, of his lively attachment to his native city.
He also practiced engraving to produce views of Tournai (realized around 1830), Germany, Austria and France. He also painted watercolors, highlighted with white gouache, at the Isle of Wight in 1862 and 1866.
Gallait’s reputation earned him numerous appointments in learned societies. He is a member of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in Berlin, as well as Director and then President of the Royal Academy of Belgium.
In October 1862, he refused the noble title of baron offered him by King Leopold I.
At his death, Tournai gave him a grandiose funeral and in 1891 Guillaume Charlier erected a monument in his honor in the Tournai communal park.
Tournai and Schaerbeek have given their name to a street.
Among his accomplished works may be named The Last Honors paid to Counts Egmont and Horn by the Corporations of the Town of Brussels, now at Tournai; The Death of Egmont, in the Berlin gallery; the Coronation of Baudouin, Emperor of Constantinople, painted for Versailles; The Temptation of St Anthony, in the palace at Brussels; The Siege of Antioch, Art and Liberty, Portrait of M. B. Dumortier and The Plague at Tournay, all in the Brussels gallery. A Gipsy Woman and her Children was painted in 1852. He also served as the director and president of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.
“M. Gallait has all the gifts that may be acquired by work, taste, judgment and determination,” wrote Théophile Gautier. His art is that of a man of tact, a skilled painter, happy in his dramatic treatment but superficial. No doubt, this Walloon artist, following the example of the Flemings of the Renaissance and the treatment of Belgian classical painters and the French Romantic school, sincerely aimed at truth. Unfortunately, misled by contemporary taste, he could not conceive of it other than as dressed in sentimentality. As an artist employed by the State, he exercised considerable influence, and for a long time he was the leader of public taste in Brussels.
1841: The Abdication of Charles V in favor of his son Philip II in Brussels on 25 October 1555, Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium;
1848: The Fisherman’s Family, St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum;
1851: Last honors given to the Counts of Egmont and Hornes, oil on canvas, 233 × 328 cm, at the Museum of Fine Arts of Tournai. Small format copy in New York at the Brooklyn Museum. Presented at the Salon de Bruxelles in 1851, the painting represents a historic event, linked to the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands. The scene depicts the tribute paid by the crossbowmen of Brussels to Count Hornes (the spelling mistake Horn in the title is original) and the Count of Egmont, decapitated the day before. The Spaniards are represented on the picture in the center by a soldier and a spy of the Duke of Alba.
Around 1856: Jeanne la Folle, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels;
1857: Francis I at the bedside of Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood, in the museum of fine arts of Liège;
1872-1877: the fifteen historical portraits which decorate the perimeter of the hemicycle of the Belgian Senate;
Portrait of Charles V, (wearing the necklace of the Golden Fleece) in the Royal Salon of the Gaulish Circle