Very rare bronze plaque by famous Belgian artist, Paul Wissaert (1885-1972) - Return of Prince Albert from Africa. Front: Depicts a young African boy waving at a ship, inscribed: "La jeunesse Bruxelloise au Prince Albert à son retour d'Afrique - About 1909." Reverse: The map of Africa, detailing Prince Albert's 1,500 mile trek through Africa. Size: 28" x 19"
BACKGROUND: The death of Leopold II (see image to right) on December 7th, 1909 brought some hope that the people of Belgium would have an awakening of conscience, and attempt to do away with the wholesale butchery and slavery in Africa that brought them as a "civilized and Christian" nation to shame before the whole world. Leopold's successor, King Albert, had visited the colony during the year before his accession.
Starting at Katanga, which he reach by way of Cape Town and Rhodesia, Prince Albert had walked 1,500 miles through the Congo forests. He was not allowed to see the atrocities that were going on in the Congo, but he heard enough during his journey to make him thoroughly dissatisfied with existing conditions. The passing of the evil Leopold II (1835-1909) gave Belgium and Prince (later King) Albert a chance to right the horrific wrongs of the past. Leopold II, King of Belgium from 1865 until his death, had an avid interest in acquiring overseas colonies. Since the Belgian people and legislature did not share this enthusiasm, Leopold founded and ruled the Belgian Free State (1885) as his personal domain. There he developed a brutal slave economy dedicated to extraction of rubber and ivory for Leopold's personal enrichment. Two courageous African Americans, George Washington Williams (Baptist minister, lawyer, member of Ohio Legislature) and William Sheppard (missionary), risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Embarrassed by these abuses, the Belgian parliament finally compelled Leopold shortly before his death to cede control of the Congo to Belgium (1908). On the positive side of the ledger, Leopold's nephew, Prince Albert (1875-1934), ascended the throne as ALBERT I in 1909. His wife became Queen Elizabeth. History remembers Albert I in a more positive light. He led Belgium's heroic resistance to German invasion in 1914, giving British and French forces crucial time to prepare their ultimately successful defense of French soil. Laeken, built by Napoleon, was the Belgian royal residence in Brussels.