Has anyone seen the "Panorama du Caire"?


This monumental 14 x 114 metre canvas by Belgian painter Emile Wauters seems to have disappeared from the archives of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (RMAH). No ransom has been demanded, so anyone with any information would be welcomed.

The "Panorama du Caire" is a vast circular canvas by the famous figurative painter Emile Wauters (1846-1933). The artist, a student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (1865-1866) and the School of Fine Arts in Paris, considered this canvas to be his greatest masterpiece; it was very important to him as a creator. According to Prof. Warmenbol, its use of light and its setting gave it an innovative quality. Originally produced to meet an order by a Belgian-Austrian company specialised in panoramas, this monumental work allowed viewers to see an entire landscape in a single glance, as if they were part of it. But it is famous today as a result of its disappearance.

The "Panorama du Caire" was selected to decorate the oriental pavilion of the 1897 International Exposition held in the Cinquantenaire Park and designed by famous architect Ernest van Humbeeck. It was left there and forgotten after the building was transformed into what we know it as today, the Great Mosque of Brussels, which was rented by Saudi Arabia and Morocco for 99 years. In 1971, the canvas was vandalised for the third time and, at the suggestion of the artistic heritage, was cut into six sections of around 20m, which were rolled separately onto wooden spools. The only trace of it today is a 1971 black-and-white photograph revealing the canvas in a pitiful state; it shows a man observing the various damage suffered by the canvas, which is strewn on the floor in front of a wall of the exposed brick rotunda.  The last written trace dates back to 1976, in a letter by then curator Renée De Roo stating that the canvas was in the museum archives but in terrible condition. There has been no trace since. Lost in the twisting corridors of the Museum archives, cut up and sold to individuals or just destroyed? Rumours about the work abound on the capital's streets.

It is a mystery that currently captivates two Belgian Egyptologists, Prof. Eugène Warmenbol and Doctor of Egyptology Luc Delvaux who have launched an appeal for information.  Watch this space!