Belgian expansionism and the making of Egyptology, 1830-1952

PRESS RELEASE: "Oriëntalist masterpiece “Panorama du Caire” rediscovered."


In an official statement closing down our 2021 symposium “Pyramids and Progress: Perspectives on the Entanglement of Imperialisms and Early Egyptology (1800–1950)” director of the Art&History Museums Brussels, Bruno Verbergt, has announced the rediscovery of the long-lost main section of Oriëntalist masterpiece “Panorama du Caire” by Belgian painter Émile Wauters.



Being one of the most renowned, yet lost, formulations of the popular interest in Egypt and Egyptomania in nineteenth-century Belgium, the panorama has been at the center of the attention of P&P-researchers prof. dr. Eugène Warmenbol (ULB) and Luc Delvaux (Art&History Museums Brussels) for the past few decades now. The recent history of the monumental panorama (114mx14m), also known as Le Caire et les bords du Nil has after all been determined by turbulence and obscurity.



As was pointed out by research by dr. Warmenbol, it was painted by Émile Wauters (1846-1933) in 1880 and 1881 based on sketches the painter made when he traveled to Egypt in 1869 during which he was at the opening of the Suez Canal. First, the painting was put on display in Vienna, The Hague, Munich, and Brussels but when Belgian mecenas Louis Cavens(1850-1940) bought it in the late 1890s, the masterpiece made defintively its way to Belgium. Subsequently, an enormous circular-shaped building was designed by Ernest Van Humbeeck and built in the Cinquantenaire Parc, almost in the shadow of the Art&History Museum Brussels who now owned the painting and exploited the pavilion in which it was put at display.

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Until the 1960s, the "panorama du Caire" could be visited in this location, but when the building received a new destination, one lost track of this former popular tourist attraction. As the former home of the panorama was turned into a mosque in the wake of a rapprochement of Saudi-Arabian and Belgium as a result of Saudi support for the victims of the deadly L'Innovation department store fire on May 22, 1967, interest for the painting faded away.

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The painting was said to be stored in the holdings of the Art&History Museums Brussels, displayed at the Palais Mondial (now Autoworld) but at the same time rumors about water damage and vandalisation started to emerge. Apart from some vague photographs of the panorama and related studies by Émile Wauters of Cairene boards of the Nile in the Charlier Museum in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, the panorama seemed to be lost forever.

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That is to say, until now. Retracing the pathways of the "Panorama du Caire", the Art&History Museums Brussels has decided, with the generous support of the Friends of the Art&History Museums Brussels, to repatriate the section they found with a French auction house. As it displays both Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria and his host Khedive of Egypt Ismaïl Pacha it offers a new and unique insight in Wauters' abilities in painting portrays. The "Panorama du Caire" can thus finally return home to Brussels, once again be admired by the public and hopefully spark the interest for Egypt, Egyptomania and Egyptology for the generations to come.

Exclusive first pictures of the rediscovered "Panorama du Caire" section.

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Eugène Warmenbol: Het Panorama du Caire van Emile Wauters (1881). Het meesterwerk van het Belgisch oriëntalisme, Ta-Mery 11, 2018-2019, pp. 2-19.

Eugène Warmenbol


Pictures of the "Panorama du Caire" are courtesy of the Art&History Museum Brussels ©

'Grande Mosquée et Centre islamique et culturel de Belgique – ancien Pavillon du Panorama du Caire'cliché A134061 ( © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium)

 cliché B146740 © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium)

'Émile Wauters, selfportrait". Selbstbildnis Wauters, Émile (1846-1933)', 1887, Gal.-Nr. P 164 A. Galerie Neue Meister ©

Boats on the Nile (study for the "Panorama du Caire"), Émile Wauters, 1868. Charliermuseum ©

Pictures of the renovation of the "Panorama du Caire" pavilion and its transformation into the Great Mosque of Brussels were found at ©


on behalf of EOS PROJECT 30885993 Pyramids & Progress Belgian expansionism and the making of Egyptology, 1830-1952
Gert Huskens

10 Nov 2021 (12:58)