The Werner Wieland Collection is one of the largest paintings collections specialising in 19th century romantic, academic, neo-gothic and

neo-renaissance art from Belgium and Holland. It is the largest private owner

of such art from Flanders and contains amongst others one of the most complete overviews of artists in these categories associated with the world famous Antwerp and Brussels art academies. The collection is named after its founder, the Flemish novelist Werner Wieland. 


Paintings Exhibition of Flemish 19th Century Masterpieces from the Werner Wieland Collection,


Between Wednesday December 4 and Sunday December 23 the Werner Wieland Collection will be holding a retrospective exhibiton on the Antwerp 19th century romantic genre painter Ferdinand De Braekeleer the Elder, a 19th Century Flemish Bruegel, Flanders’ pre-eminent painter of folksy scenes and day-to-day life in the romantic era. It is the first time in a few generations that this remarkable champion of early to mid-19th century Flemish genre painting is being celebrated via a dedicated exhibition, this with over 20 works on display, amongst which twelve from his own hand and some by his followers and students in the De Braekeleer School and style.


This unique show will take place in the heart of old Antwerp, where De Braekeleer used to hold his studio, namely in the art gallery Wouter De Bruycker, Wolstraat 26, 2000 Antwerp. The venue is located near Antwerp’s main historic square Grote Markt and the Christmas Market, easily reachable by public tramway line 11. 

The gallery will be open for viewing every day from Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 7 pm, also on Saturdays and Sundays, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Entrance is free, a biographical note and list of works is available at € 1. The gallery can accommodate no more than 20 visitors at the time. Reservation not needed or possible. 

Guided tours of one hour are available at € 10 per person, either during opening hours or in the evenings at 7 pm. Please reserve and inquire beforehand at info@wernerwieland.eu 

Werner Wieland catalogues from previous exhibitions on Flemish 19th century art and Werner Wieland novels will also be for sale at the gallery. 



The artist was born at Antwerp in 1792, when Belgium was still under Austrian rule. He died in Antwerp in 1883 after a long and illustrious career as Flanders’ most famous genre painter and its first winner of the prestigious art prize Prix de Rome. 

De Braekeleer became an orphan early in life, it is pivotal in understanding the central role romantic children’s and family scenes often play in his compositions. His uncle and tutor introduced the artistically gifted young boy to the painter Matthias Van Bree, then director of the famous Antwerp Academy, who took him on as a student at the school. Under Van Bree De Braekeleer soon developed into an extraordinary talent, already in 1813 he obtained a medal at the Paris Salon with a submission in the then fashionable classic style, “Aeneas carrying his father Anchises”. 

In 1818 the young Ferdinand De Braekeleer was awarded by King Willem I the first ever art price Prix de Rome of the then newly formed Kindom of the United Netherlands. This meant that at that moment he had officially been named the most promising painting talent in the entire Benelux. The prize’s monetary stipend enabled the painter to travel extensively through Italy between 1819 and 1822, visiting Venice, Naples, Florence and Rome and studying the classic Italian masters, as had hundreds of years before done his Flemish colleagues Rubens and Bruegel. 

But upon his return to Flanders – and very much like Bruegel – the painter chose to pursue his career not in monumental works in the Italianate or baroque styles, but in representing on canvas and panel Flemish family and village life around him in a more intimate and unique style of his own. 

De Braekeleer married in 1827 Marie Therese Leys, elder sister to the later painting celebrity and De Braekeleer student Hendrik Leys. The couple had many children, two of whom became accomplished painters in their own right, Ferdinand Junior and Henri. Originally the painter lived and worked form his house on the Antwerp St Jacob’s Market in the old town, but as his fame and success rose, he moved to more elegant quarters in the expanding port and trading city, first to the residential quarter around Mechelsesteenweg, thereafter to a luxurious town house on the Belgiëlei. 

Just like Pieter Bruegel The Elder a few hundred years prior, De Braekeleer purposedly pursued the pictorial eternalisation of Flemish daily life around him in the early 19th century, of inn and courtyard and village scenes, of markets, school anecdotes, of family, love and children’s events, of a complete traditional world, rapidly yielding and waning in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Depicting this tranquil, closed world was De Braekeleer’s greatest joy and his life mission, he fulfilled it until at high age, in his own unmistakable drawing style with rich colourings, subtle lighting, an eye for detail, compositions laden with human feelings and humour, occasionally with tragedy. 

Thus De Braekeleer’s art is still today the source of wonderful artistic enjoyment, it is a mesmerizing closed world, filled with laughter and tears. Without the slightest modernising style disturbance the viewer is totally and completely immersed in the past, in the charming lost world of our 19th century ancestors. No modernising element or object is seeping in to remind us of the aesthetic ugliness of our outside world, on a De Braekeleer canvas we are momentarily lost in an idealised romantic universe of past life, as if taken inside a cartoon. One often with children in the leading role. 

De Braekeleer was a master in depicting objects, architecture and period costumes. His works, created in a period prior to photography, have great documentary value about Belgium’s customs, culture and traditions in the early nineteenth century, during the Napoleonic, Dutch and early Belgian periods. 

Occasionally De Braekeleer would produce an historical or religious work, especially centred around traumatic scenes in his birthplace’s history, be it the Spanish pillage of Antwerp in the 16th century or the destructive bombardment of Antwerp by Dutch troops in October 1830 under General Chassé at the time of the Belgian Revolution. With Van Bree De Braekeleer was involved in restoring the Rubens’ masterpieces in the Antwerp Cathedral to their former glory, after their return in 1816 from Paris, where French revolutionary troops had brought them as part of the systematic plundering of Flanders during the French revolutionary invasion of 1794. 

During his life time De Braekeleer enjoyed enormous artistic success and popularity. He obtained medals and prizes for submissions in the salons of Brussels, Gent, Paris and Amsterdam. He was accepted into the Belgian National Academy and made an honorary member of the Russian National Academy. The Belgian King Leopold II knighted the ageing artist in the 1860’s due to his merits and contributions to Belgian art. 

Indeed, De Braekeleer’s fine miniature panels were treated and traded in the 19th century as precious merchandise, as artistic jewels, in Belgium, but equally in Holland, Germany, Great-Britain and in America, such was their pictorial quality and finesse of execution. In particular the Brussels based international merchant banker and art dealer Gustave Couteaux acted as De Braekeleer’s agent in distributing his works and fame. Ferdinand would later introduce his brother-in-law Henri Leys and his own son Henri to this art dealer with good commercial success for both of them. Ferdinand should not be underestimated as merely a genre painter of happy children, he was a talented business man and the patriarch or “godfather” of his artistic clan. 

Another aspect of his multi-faceted genius was his involvement in local politics, he was a member of the Antwerp Town Council between 1836 and 1842 with a responsibility for the arts and culture. In 1864 he was named curator of the Antwerp Museum, today’s KMSKA, of which he helped shaping the future. 

Not just through his colourful and spirited output has Ferdinand De Braekeleer the Elder created a lasting legacy for Flanders, but also by bequeathing to the nation a fully-fledged “School” or artists’, an Antwerp colony of genre artists. He played a leading role in shaping the talent and career of many a 19th century Flemish painter, just like Pieter Bruegel had done 300 years prior in his time. Amongst his most prominent scholar we mention the Baron Henry Leys, founder of the European School of Historic Realism, who himself had as noteworthy pupils Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema and James Tissot. Further Ferdinand De Braekeleer students include his own sons Ferdinand Junior and Henri, and his nephew Adriaan, all of whom owe a debt of gratitude to the master. Amongst his many other pupils, who perpetuated his style throughout the 19th century, we cite Alois Hunin, Louis Somers, Eugene De Block, Auguste Serrure, Frans De Bruycker, Hendrik Carpentero and Aimé Pez. 

On the international art scene Ferdinand De Braekeleer may be compared with Greuze in France, Madou in Brussels, Wilkey in Scotland, Hogarth and Frith in England, Spitzweg in Germany, Ten Kate in Holland. Today Ferdinand’s works can still be admired in the museums of Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Montreal. 

We hope the Werner Wieland retrospective show on the artist will give national and international spectators a pleasant taste in rediscovering the wonderful world of Ferdinand De Braekeleer, so colourful and lively, as the Master had intended. With over 12 of his best works in its possession the Werner Wieland Collection is today the largest holder of De Braekeleers’ output worldwide and an important contributor to extending De Braekeleer’s legacy into younger generations. 

Indeed, after many decades, a tribute was overdue. The celebration of De Braekeleer’s world in which children frequent so often as protagonists is coincidentally taking place around the traditional children feasts of Saint Nicolas and Christmas, the painter would have been pleased!


The comparison between Bruegel and Braekeleer is apt. Both artists were active in what was then known as the Duchy of Brabant, they both chose upon returning from Rome to paint the life of ordinary Flemish folk over monumental historic or religious scenes. Both founded a successful artistic dynasty with two sons each, they both ran a studio (atelier). But most importantly, in iconography, in the representation of folksy faces, costumes, traditions and customs, the discerning artistic eye will spot resemblances, even if 300 years separated them and even if each of them had their own unique peculiarities. 

Copyright. All Rights Reserved