Research Grants 1996


José OLCINA: Public opinion in Belgium during the period 1809 to 1816
Doctoral thesis in modern and contemporary history
Supervisor: M. Jean Tulard
University: Paris IV-Sorbonne

How did the Belgians and the French from 1795 onwards react to the military, political and economic changes of the last years of the Napoleonic regime and how subsequently did they greet the Belgian-Dutch union of 1815? This is the problem for which I wish to form the beginnings of an answer in my doctoral thesis on public opinion in Belgium from 1809 (the date of the renewal of hostilities between France and Austria and the date of the British landing at Walcheren) and 1816 when the kingdom of the Netherlands had reached the end of its first year of existence.

It is true that the French period in Belgium, and also the history of the Hollando-Belgian state, have been the object of many studies, for the most part in the last century and the first decades of this one. However, not only did most of them only used a relatively limited spectrum of source documents, they are also heavily marked by Belgian nationalism and as such have not wtihtstood the test of time. Furthermore, little work has been done to date on the transition period between the French and Dutch regimes, and this is a particularly interesting period since the political aspirations of the people can be more easily discerned than at other periods.

One of my main aims will be to single out as much as possible the mechanisms acting on the evolution of the opinion of a public in permanent movement during the period. What then were the different reasons for satifaction (or otherwise) of the peoples under the successive powers? How much did these peoples mix? How large were the populations and what were their roles? Did the different social classes (or social groups within those classes) have different attitudes? All this needs to be studied before being able to speak with confidence about the reality and the socio-political dynamics in Belgium in the period under consideration.

Effectively, a consideration of the way in which the Belgians experienced the Napoleonic wars is unavoidable – it also important (more specifically) to find out how they viewed the conflicts of 1809 and 1813 between their previous rulers, the Austrians, and the French.

It will also be important to consider whether it was the circumstances of the last days of the Empire (the economic crisis and the rise in governmental requirements) or rather feelings pre-existing but until then partially hidden and less obvious, which explain the hostility revealed by the Belgians in 1813 towards the French regime. It would then be necessary to interpret the volte-face by a large segment of public opinion and the wave of Francophilia which swept through Belgium in 1814. Was this a result of the harsh treatment inflicted on the country by the combined armies, or of the prospect of a reunion with Holland, or even of the serious economic crisis which followed the seperation from France until the raising of the Continental Blockade? It is only by trying to clarify this period that we can hope to understand the almost total absence of mobilisation against the French during the Cent-Jours and the favourable welcome given by the inhabitants of Hainaut to the Imperial army en route for Waterloo.

It is also clear that we should ask whether there existed different regional attitudes between France and Wallonie, and whether, under the surface, there was a feeling of Belgian nationalism twenty years after the disappearance of the short-lived United States of Belgium and fifteen years before the birth of the Kingdom of Belgium.

As regards the sources dating from the French period in Belgium, the most important are made up of: the correspondance of the prefects with the ministeries of the police and of the interior on matters regarding police reports of different origin; and some military archives. Analogous Hollando-Belgian sources favour the study of public opinion under the provisory government in Belgium of 1814 and also the new monarchy of the Kingdom of the Low Countries.

José Olcina, masters in history: Public opinion in Belgium during the period 1812 to 1815 (Belgium in the face of the collapse of the Empire) Winner of the Suzanne Tassier prize in 1992. He gained his DEA in modern and contemporary history at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1995. 1995 to 1996, he has begun the present thesis under the supervision of M. Jean Tulard. He is assitant at the faculty of Social Economic and Political Sciences at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, under M. Jean -Jacques Heirwegh, for courses in economic history up to the 18th century. José Olcina is the author of an article: “Public opinion from the retreat from Russia to Waterloo” published in Belgique française, Bruxelles, 1993 (published work edited by M. Hervé Hasquin).


Karine HUGUENAUD: The art policy of the Second Empire
Doctoral thesis in History of Art presented by Karine Huguenaud
Supervisor: Monsieur Gérard Monnier Université Paris I

A long-neglected and underestimated period in French history, the Second Empire has also been a deeply discredited period in art history. The most common criticisms centre around the government’s incompetence and it’s lack of foresight in matters of art. For example, its deep distrust of the budding Impressionist movement and two of its greatest exponents (Courbet et Manet) led to the Imperial regime being considered backward and authoritarian. Added to this are the standard clichés about the triumph of an official art bogged down by a bourgouis, obvious, and facile aesthetic, highly criticised for its taste for pastiche and eclecticism. Nor was people’s belief in this caricature much influenced by the Emperor’s direct action in the artistic sphere, notably the urbanism of Haussmann, the great rebuilding of Paris, the Salon des Refusés of 1863, and the Universal Exhibitions of 1855 and of 1867, etc.It was not until a century later that this negative vision was reconsidered. In the period between the exhibition ‘L’art en France sous le Second Empire’ in 1979 and the opening of the Musée d’Orsay in 1986, the number of works on this period, and also spaces dedicated to such work, grew considerably, but without giving an overview of the wealth and diversity of the art of the period, or, more importantly, taking into account government action in all its aspects.

The role of the state in this intense period of artistic creation requires serious analysis. The imperial government gave early signs of its interest in the arts: in fact its art policy was set in place even before the policy itself was proclaimed, in other words starting at the end of 1849 with the nomination of count Alfred Emilien de Nieuwerkerke as director of museums and future superintendant of fine arts. The aim of the policy was to take in hand one particular institution, the Salon, which had largely been given free rein following the revolution of 1848. Karine Huguenaud has written two masters theses on this subject, Les Salons du Second Empire and Des Salons à la Réforme de 1863. Quite logically, Ms Huguenaud has chosen to continue her work in thyis area, widening her scope to include the artistic institutions controled by the state. Her aim in approaching such an ambitious subject is to establish a synthesis of Second Empire art policy. Her research is to be arranged around five main objectives :

To draw a picture of the politicians and administrators in charge of fine arts with the aim of defining their spheres of expertise and the extent and limits of the powers of the different government offices (the ministry of the interior, the ministry of state for the Emperor’s household and fine arts, the ministry of public instruction, the ministry of letters, sciences and fine arts). In parallel with this, those guiding this policy also need to be studied: namely, Napoleon III and the Imperial family, the ministers (Fould, Walewski, Vaillant, Richard), the great administrators (Nieuwerkerke, Chennevières, Gautier, Courmont, Mercey, etc.) as well as others whose actions and influence in art matters were of primary importance (Viollet-le Duc, Mérimée).

To trace the role of the Institut and its influence on the arts in France: in other words to show how the pre-eminence of the Académie in terms of art teaching was slowly eroded by official legal procedings leading up to the “coup de théâtre” of the Reform of 1863. This reform constitutes one of the pivots of the art policy of the Second Empire and reveals government ambitions in terms of education. The fierce debate about the teaching of drawing raged for the whole of the Empire period. One of the key points of this policy for the Empire was the way the fine arts were to be applied to industry.

To approach the fundamental question of the Salons and the Universal Exhibitions.The aim here is not to repeat work done previously but to shed more light on old as well as new elements, clarifying where the subject has remained unclear and placing everything within the context of general government policy. Most important is the attempt to place these elements in a national context, setting them alongside the exhibitions in the provinces and exhibitions of industrial art.
The question of exhibitions leads directly onto the problem of purchases and commissions, a vast field to date totally unresearched. What were the general conditions, who were those directly responsable, what were the genres and styles of the works purchased and what was the destination of such works (museums, imperial residences, public buildings etc.)? This crucial study will make it possible to draw up an evaluation of the state’s buying policy with reference to modern art.

This last point is closely linked to Second Empire architectural policy. Paris was subjected to huge urbanistic reconfiguration, the foundations of prestigious buildings were laid (for example, the Louvre, the Opera, etc.) and imperial residences were the object of significant ornamental development. Without attempting to give a detailed account of the numerous constructions begun during the Second Empire, it is nevertheless important to situate them within the context of Imperial policy. In other words, what were the sorts of commissions, who were the artists selected, and what was the dominant aesthetic line ?
These closely interlinked lines of research are crucial for a complete understanding of the period. And even though the finished work will not necessarily bring more detail on all of the above themes, nevertheless only through such a general approach will it be possible to define the principles of Imperial action in the arts and to justify (or not) the existence of an official doctrine. The idea of the art of the Second Empire or ‘style Napoléon III’ is widely accepted but it is a concept which is poorly defined. This work will bring to the subject much-needed precision.

Karine Huguenaud has a DEA in History of Art, Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is at present collaborating on the catalogue for the exhibition “Paris-Bruxelles” at the musée d’Orsay (Biographies and notes) to be published in March 1997, edited by Anne Pingeot, director of the exhibition and chief curator at the musée d’Orsay.