Frédéric Régamey: L’Escrime en Belgique, 1891

nl - fr - en

Image in full size
Original legend
Legend with direct indication of names, grouping and color marking (drafted by Tom Pijnenborg)

The French artist Frédéric Régamey (1849 – 1925) painted a group portrait of Belgian fencers on a commission by Albert Fierlants, founder and president of the Cercle d’Escrime de Bruxelles, the Brussels fencing club. The painting, titled “L’Escrime en Belgique” (“Fencing in Belgium,” gouache, 94 x 128 cm), was exhibited for the first time in 1891 and was later considered the artist’s masterpiece, with a honorable mention at the French Salon of 1892. The painting was reproduced as a print for the French periodical L’Escrime française (01/01/1894), listing the 138 pictured fencers, and it is this print which serves as frontimage for the historical pages of the website The original painting belongs to the collection of the fencing museum, Musée de l’Escrime “Charles Debeur”, and is on display at the Sportimonium in Hofstade.

Under the motto “L’Union fait la Force” (“Unity is Strength”) Régamey gathered administrators, fencers and (often noble) patrons of the most important Belgian fencing clubs. However, these notables were not placed at random. At the end of the 19th century the Cercle d’Escrime de Bruxelles was committed to a renewal of Belgian fencing in the French mould and the painting expresses this commitment.

In the foreground we can see preparations for a bout between fencing master Charles Beaurain from Antwerp and the French fencing master of the Cercle d’Escrime de Bruxelles, Auguste Thieriet.
Beaurain (on the left) represents the tradition of fencing in Belgium. He was a highly esteemed fencing master and fencer, and in 1889 he was president of the Antwerp Cercle des Maîtres d’Armes Civils et Militaires (association of civilian and military fencing masters) which arranged yearly public examinations for certification as provost or fencing master. Beaurain is surrounded by other luminaries of Belgian fencing like Léon Fadeux and Lt. Jean-Baptiste Meiser, commander of the military normal school in Brussels*, and somewhat further back the fencing masters Eugène Desmedt and Henri Dupont. The military masters are spread out among the audience.
Thieriet (on the right) represents the ambitions of the Cercle d’Escrime where the fine French fencing was held in high regard. He is seconded by Jules Strens (busily explaining something on the left) and Emile Le Bourguignon, two veterans of the Cercle d’Escrime who also provide a link to the old Salle Selderslagh where Fierlants started fencing. In the same group we find a young Léopold Merckx (trained in France) and Jules-Norbert Leirens, the active secretary of the Confrérie Saint-Michel in Ghent.

* Meiser is shown with Beaurain, but in fact the founding of the military normal school (a dedicated fencing programme at the time) was instigated by the Cercle d’Escrime.

Thieriet receives a glove from one of Beaurain’s seconds, Charles Havenith, well-known in the Parisian fencing clubs. The glove represents a challenge issued to the Cercle d’Escrime, but this challenge should of course be taken symbolically, considering that most of those involved were already won for the idea of renewal. Besides, fraternization between the Belgian fencing clubs had been the subject of Régamey’s drawings before.

In the center of the painting Albert Fierlants explains the set-up to the (deceased) predecessors of the Cercle d’Escrime: Victor Cordelois, Mathieu and Napoléon Selderslagh, Baron Léon d’Hoogvorst and Charles Bonneels. This group is flanked by two other early pioneers, Frederik Van den Abeele of Antwerp and General Charles Van Loo of the Confrérie Saint-Michel in Ghent. On the second row the administrators of the Cercle d’Escrime stand discussing the proceedings.

Of course many other important figures are shown among the audience, too many to name them all here. In the back, to the right, there is a noteworthy group with the newly-trained instructors of the military normal school: Adj. Maes and Adj. Saussez, and specifically François Thirifay and Cyrille Verbrugge who make a name for themselves later on. Last but not least we find a young Albert Feyerick in the group of the Confrérie Saint-Michel on the far right and a very young Ludo Van den Abeele in the front. Both will eventually become president of the national federation FRBCE-KBFS, and in 1913 Feyerick of course will be the first president of the international federation FIE.