Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Vilvoorde to replace portrait of Leopold II with exhibition on diversity

17:56 19/02/2020

Vilvoorde is removing all of the portraits of Belgian monarchs from its city hall aside from those of the current king and queen, Philippe and Mathilde. The city council made the decision in order to rid itself of portraits of Leopold II.

The infamous Leopold II was the king who made the Congo his personal property in 1885, later turning it over to the state, at which point it became the Belgian Congo. The barbaric conditions in the Congo, whose people were forced to produce the rubber that made Belgium rich, have made Leopold’s name synonymous with Colonial exploitation.

“Leopold II is associated with one of the most horrific periods in Belgian history,” said Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte (S.PA). “We have made the decision to no longer have his portrait in a public place.”

Creating new public space

The councillors in Vilvoorde, just over the border with Brussels, have been discussing the portraits of the monarchs for years. They hang in the large reception room on the top floor of city hall.

Leftist political party PVDA recently put the subject on the top of its agenda because it wanted the portrait of Leopold specifically to disappear. PVDA has said that it isn’t interested in erasing history, simply not celebrating figures with a past such as Leopold’s.

Finally, the city council made the decision to remove all portraits of former monarchs and to stage a permanent exhibition in the space, which will be open to the public. “The reception room will get a facelift,” said Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte (SP.A). “We are going to create a space for an exhibition focused on the diversity of the city. That’s an important aspect of Vilvoorde and something we would like to put in the spotlight. And there’s no better place to do that than city hall.”

Photo: The portrait of Leopold II in Vilvoorde’s reception hall
©Courtesy PVDA Vilvoorde

Written by Lisa Bradshaw



Ik vrees het ergste. Wat voor diversiteit zou in de plaats komen van onze grote vorst! En dat allemaal omwille van een lastercampagne die begonnen is in de jaren 1900 in Engeland. Leopold II heeft veel gedaan voor de Congo! Zonder hem zou de huidige RDC niet bestaan. Een beetje objectiviteit zou de raad sieren.

Feb 20, 2020 16:26
Frank Lee

I wonder what Leopold II would think of today's Belgium, if we could somehow travel back in time and offer him a short visit in the 21st Century...

Feb 20, 2020 17:38

I personal refret the disapparance of the royal portraits by examples of diversity. It all started with a biased attack on king Leopold II who modernised our country and had a positive role in Africa notwithstanding the abuses committed during the period of the Independant State of Congo. A bit of objectivity and a serious study of the impact of our kings would benefit the community, but Flemish politicians lack general knowledge, speak an appealing lower dutch and will prefer some folklore figures or to highlight trendy icons in society.

Feb 21, 2020 02:34
Frank Lee

John Clive,
"an appealing lower dutch"? Do you mean "appalling"? And what is "lower dutch"? Is it Flemish you're referring to?

Feb 21, 2020 14:36