Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ravage! A 2014 WWI Art Show at Leuven, Belgium

Here's another Centennial art show we missed last year.  From 20 March  until 1 September 2014, the Museum Leuven  hosted an exhibition on the destruction of art and culture in times of conflict. 

Leuven was the first town to fall victim to the war. German troops entered it on 20 August 1914. Five days later, shots were heard and the Germans thought they were being targeted by sharpshooters on the roofs. They shot hostages, fired on residents — killing 248 — and set fire to houses.

Ruins of the Leuven Library

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed. The university halls and an adjoining wing that housed the library were deliberately set alight. Hundreds of valuable books, some of them dating from the Middle Ages, were destroyed. News of the disaster immediately spread worldwide, thanks to American reporters on the spot, who compared the destruction of the Flemish town to the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco.

However, the centerpiece of the 2014 exhibit was sent from America.  Here's background information from the museum's website.  

The burning of Leuven University Library caused shock, indignation and outrage around the world. After the war, the Americans built a new library in Leuven. In gratitude, the Belgians gave the Americans an enormous tapestry (16 ½ feet high and 18 ½ feet) designed by Floris Jespers (1889–1965, Antwerp) in 1935. The work was intended to glorify American generosity towards Belgium. On the right, we see the Americans intervening on the battlefield; civilization — an Ionic capital — has been crushed under foot, but the American intervention manages to save cultural heritage from total destruction. Leuven University Library is clearly recognisable in the centre of the tapestry. 

American Warfare — Commission for Relief in Belgium, by Floris Jespers

The tapestry was first exhibited at the World Exhibition in New York in 1939. It was later formally presented to the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where it has since been stored in the archives. It is being exhibited here for the first time on Belgian soil.

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