The Brussels Fair

This painting by Léon Herbo, oil on canvas, shows the Brussels Fair that was inaugurated in 1880, today better known as the Foire du Midi. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence, the Brussels City Council decided to bring together three simultaneous fairs on the Boulevard du Midi. The fairs of the Grand Place, the Marché au Grains  and the place des Martyres merged in this way.

In this work, the artist draws attention to some typical sights of travelling fairs and folk festivals in the 19th century. The Kermesse de Bruxelles is a wonderful example of a typical 19th century travelling fair. The fair’s attraction for the artists of the time speaks for itself. The colourful and exotic spectacle and the very diverse audience offered the painter a theme enriched with dynamics and drama. Vivid gestures and fabrics, a close-up of onlookers, a fleeting burst of voyeurism captured on canvas.

This painting was purchased in 2021 at a Brussels gallery, which presented the work to the Museum after a tip-off from museum colleagues.

Léon Herbo (1850-1907), Belgian painter

Léon Herbo studied with Léonce Legendre at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tournai and continued his training with Joseph Stallaert at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Brussels. He travelled through France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy as winner of the preparatory competition for the Prix de Rome in 1873. He settled afterwards in Brussels. Together with Permeke and others, he was one of the founders of the artists’ association L’Essor, which focused on realism.

Herbo’s work is part of several public collections such as those of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, as well as private collections. Although his focus was on Orientalist genre paintings, he also created flamboyant portraits of the Belgian and French elite. Thanks to his reputation as a portraitist, he received many commissions for rich European interiors. This, in turn, was expressed in an exuberant painting style. In 1889, he received an honourable mention at the World Exhibition in Paris and was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold.

Why did we include this work in our collections?

  • Léon Herbo is an important Brussels artist
  • Such works by Herbo rarely come onto the market
  • The work is interesting because of the characters portrayed and offers a glimpse into “ordinary” Brussels
  • Since 2021, the culture of fairgrounds and fairs has been recognised as a part of Brussels heritage

Would you like to know more about this acquisition? Come and visit the museum to see it with your won eyes. You can also find more details about the work itself in the inventory sheet here available.