Robbe, Louis (1806-1887)

Robbe, Louis (1806-1887)
Robbe, Louis (1806-1887)

Louis Robbe was a distinguished Belgian painter, engraver, and lawyer who is regarded as one of the forerunners of realism in animal painting. Before Robbe’s influence, animals were often stylised in a romantic style, imbued with a sense of drama as part of a broader narrative. As one critic put it, “the horse was tolerated, on the condition that it was painted pawing and prancing”. But Robbe was altogether different, he painted what he saw, studying the creatures first-hand, and avoiding contrivance.

Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691), the great Dutch master, seems to be an influence and comparisons were often drawn between the two. The rich artistic history of the low countries was never far from his mind.

Early in life, however, it was his father, Dominique Robbe that provided the clearest direction by encouraging him to seek a career in law. As such, the young Robbe undertook legal studies, obtained a doctorate and was subsequently appointed Justice of the Peace in Moorseele, near his home town of Kortrijk. He continued to practise as a lawyer while working simultaneously as an artist - achieving success in both fields. As a man of reason, he utilised his rational mind to allow for greater focus on the subject at hand.

His works were shown at various salons including Ghent, Kortrijk, Bruges, and The Hague. Today, he’s represented in numerous museums such as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In an obituary, a close friend recalled how he was working diligently until the end, exploring the picturesque scenery of Flanders.

“...he wandered in the summer, in search of paintings, his old servant, Amélie, who was always seen following him, gravely carrying the painting box and the artist's chair, handing him his muffler when the wind freshened, and, encamped, knitting in hand, behind him…”


Ghent, Kortrijk Salon, Bruges Salon, Universal Exhibition in Paris, The Hague.

Public Collections

Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK), Groeningemuseum, Art Gallery of South Australia, Hermitage Museum, National Museum in Warsaw, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Shipley Art Gallery, Brooke Robinson Museum, Kelmarsh Hall, Arlon, Bruges, Tournai, Broel Museum, Liège, Mechelen, Sint-Niklaas, Lille, Moscow, Cincinnati, Washington.



Born in Kortrijk, Belgium, to Dominique Robbe, a lawyer, and Rosalie Robbe (nee Ovyn).

Studied at the Dathis brothers' boarding school in Kortrijk.


Studied under Jan Baptiste de Jonghe (1785-1844) at the Kortrijk Academy.


Obtained a Doctorate in Law at the University of Ghent.


Married Adela Urqullu who was of Spanish nobility. The couple would have two children.

Appointed Justice of the Peace in Moorseele.


Developed his aptitude for oil painting following guidance from Jan Baptiste de Jonghe.


Founded the Kortrijk Society of Fine Arts.


Mentioned in ‘Indépendance Belge’.

“The Duke of Aremberg, who misses no opportunity to protect the national arts, has just admitted into his beautiful painting gallery a black painting by an excellent landscaper and animal painter, Louis Robbe, from Courtrai . We know that this young artist is in Italy today, and that he inspires his brush from the privileged nature and sky of this beautiful country.”


Moved to Brussels to work as a lawyer for the Ministry of Finance while working as a painter simultaneously.


Reviewed in ‘Indépendance Belge’ during the annual exhibition at the Brussels Salon.

“The painting of animals is not represented, as usual, by the fertile brush of Mr. Verboeckhoven. His stay in Italy explains this unfortunate absence. The field remained with Mr. Robbe, whose progress in this genre was brilliantly noted by his last salon. Mr. Robbe sent to this year's exhibition, a canvas where the cattle are, if we are not mistaken, of natural size.

This enterprise was very audacious; because it has rarely been attempted even by the old masters, so difficult is it to extend beyond a certain limit, the dimensions of a genre whose subjects are so absolutely devoid of interest. Mr. Robbe came out of this tour de force much more happily than one might have expected. He gathered a cow, a donkey, a goat and some sheep near a fence. Each of these animals, especially the donkey, is faithfully copied from nature, and as much as possible spiritually painted.”


Began working alongside the Dutch landscape painter Willem Roelofs (1822-1897).


Mentioned in the Eclectic Review following the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

“The Belgians are strong in the fine arts. The Dutch and British influences, with a constitutional government, seem to have enabled them to triumph over the benumbing effects of the papacy. M. Louis Robbe, a native of Courtrai in West Flanders, has a picture entitled La Campine,' a landscape with cattle which belongs to the Belgian government. The cows are like enough to tempt a milkmaid to milk them, and the water makes a spectator feel thirsty, while cows themselves might try to chew the grass.”


Reviewed in the ‘Journal De Bruxelles’ during the annual exhibition at the Salon D’Anvers.

“Another painter whose place is marked in the Pantheon of our national glories is Mr. Louis Robbe, who, for cultivating a completely different genre than his namesake, no less deserves our praise and congratulations. The artist paints both the landscape and the animals and their stables, and does not need the help of others to finish his works. His Haymaking is a first-rate canvas, well up to what this veteran of the art has produced to date.

These three cows harnessed to a cart are inimitable in truth and character. We see and understand that the artist has no other concern than to interpret nature as it is, in its simple and naive reality. The smallest details are handled with masterful perfection and touch. The artist is, moreover, a poet, and has the talent to imprint on his works a stamp of suave poetry and ineffable grandeur which strikes and impresses. The more we study this painting, the more we discover a most serious cover, revealing the experienced artist who is a master of his genre.”


Mentioned in the ‘Journal Officiel de la République Française’.

“By treating only animals, one can become a great painter, and Mr. Verlat has proof of this truth in the very history of Flemish art. It is for having remained convinced of this that Mr. Louis Robbe has made such an enviable reputation among the plethora of Albert Cuyp's heirs. Pasture in Flanders is one of those beautiful, serious and charming works which are the glory of modern schools and where an ardent love of nature vibrates. In its setting of big sky and vast meadows, the beast is noble and it takes on something sacred which explains its deification by naturalist cults. Mr. Robbe understood this like Troyon, who was not only a virtuoso of the palette and an admirable formist of the animal, but a poet moved by its plastic beauty.

If I could doubt that Mr. Robbe loves animals, after having studied two strokes of his painting I would no longer doubt it in front of the painting entitled: Sad meeting. It is about a poor, hungry, stray dog ​​who encounters on his way the corpse of a comrade who died of starvation and who smells it melancholy. In general, I do not greatly appreciate these subjects of banal emotion which make the fortune of engraving dealers; but, really, here the cry is eloquent, and the quality of the painting saves everything. These skinny dogs, modelled under bristling hair without any display of knowledge, but with consummate skill, will be admired by all painters. Roosters after the fight is also a pretty piece of work, brilliantly delivered and with a beautiful brilliance of tone.”


Died in Brussels.


Speeches given in Kortrijk following the unveiling of a monument in Louis Robbe’s honour.

“The bust of Louis Robbe is due to Fraikin; the work is worthy in every way of the eminent artist; Fraikin was the close friend of Louis Robbe. This means that the features of the Kortrijk painter are reproduced with as much fidelity as finesse. Also, when the veil fell, there were demonstrations of admiration, especially among those who had known the man whose memory Courtrai celebrated.

The following speech was delivered by Mr. Mayor at the foot of the Monument, in the presence of the entire Municipal Council and a considerable crowd eager to attend the ceremony:

Gentlemen, earlier I felt a feeling of joy and pride in inaugurating this Monument. This is Louis Robbe, the famous animal painter who was born in Kortrijk and who brought so much shine to his hometown. Flemish by blood, Louis Robbe was also Flemish by talent; he helped to perpetuate the traditions which ensure immortal glory for the Flemish school.

He left admirable paintings, delightfully natural and tasteful, where the vigour of his brushwork, the variety of his designs and his great sense of observation are revealed. God was pleased to lavish on Louis Robbe the most exquisite gifts of spirit and imagination: a painter by vocation, a lawyer by profession, in his leisure hours he was a musician and poet.

This Monument is not only a tribute of recognition for the lustre that Louis Robbe added to the artistic reputation of our city, it is also a testimony of admiration for his laborious existence; because until the last days of his life, he worked with devouring ardour. Honour to talent, honour to work! This is the lesson that emerges from this celebration.

Young people, who feel within you the attraction of beauty, the sacred flame of the ideal; young students, who, like Louis Robbe in the past, attend the courses of our Drawing Academy and our Music School, think carefully about what is strengthening and salutary in the model that we are offering you; tell yourself that work is not only a condition of human existence, without which there is neither dignity nor purpose in life, but that it is also the surest guarantee of success, that fertilised talent through work generates fortune and leads to the greatest honours.

To the Robbe family, which is represented here by several of its members, in particular by Mr. Henri Robbe, also a distinguished painter, I present the tribute of sympathy of the Municipal Council and its warmest congratulations. I am certain to respond to the Council's wish by proposing that it decide urgently and by acclamation that the square, where this imperishable memory now stands, will henceforth be called Place Louis Robbe.

I thank, on behalf of the City, Mr. Fraikin, the eminent artist whose chisel has reproduced with expressive and living fidelity the features of our illustrious fellow citizen. I also thank the Society of Fine Arts and the Academy of Drawing for the kind assistance they were kind enough to give us. The Society of Fine Arts had the honour of paying homage to the memory of the man who was one of its most active members, it attended the Inauguration as a body; Mr. Paul Gillon, its President, recounted in a well-thought-out speech the life of our fellow citizen; by publishing this speech in our Report, we will give an exact idea of ​​who Robbe was, of his character, of his personality as a private man and as an artist.

Here is how Mr. Gillon expressed himself:

Gentleman, it is with a keen feeling of happiness that the Society of Fine Arts joins the Municipal Administration to pay, on this day, a brilliant and sympathetic tribute to Louis Robbe, a child from Courtrai, who cast some lustre on his hometown. It is undoubtedly also under the influence of this same feeling that we see so many of our fellow citizens crowding around this Monument which will remain, alongside the works of the Master, as a living testimony to the recognition and artistic feeling of the Kortrijk population.

Louis Robbe was one of those men of whom the City is honoured. He was great, both in character and talent. He was a generous, friendly, original personality, and more than one painter, at the beginning of his artistic career, owed success to his encouragement and advice. Louis Robbe was born in Kortrijk in 1806. From his earliest youth, he was noted for his artistic tastes. Later, the cultivation of the arts was the goal of his life. Initially a lawyer at the Courtrai bar, where he was called to occupy a distinguished rank, he soon abandoned his career in law to devote himself to painting, towards which a vocation irresistible drew him on. He loved wide horizons, sunny clearings, moors. He loved to see and study the cattle which liven up the rich pastures of our Flanders in such a picturesque way.

After having made his first studies at the Drawing Academy of Kortrijk, Robbe painted for some time under the direction of the landscape painter J.-B. De Jonghe, 20 years older than him. This distinguished painter, of whom the Kortrijk Museum has a remarkable canvas, belonged to what was commonly called classical art. It was the moment when realism took its first steps. A reaction seemed full of promise, a presage of a new art; it had the consequence of bringing painters back to reality in all its manifestations. De Jonghe's example had no influence on Robbe. Enemy of the conventional, he was inspired by nature; in his works, nothing conventional, everywhere the personality of the Master is asserted.

Also, see with what deep feeling Louis Robbe paints for us the animals, the landscape where they move and our rich and green Flemish countryside. See how he knows how to combine respect for form, the clearest and truest perception of nature, the harmony of colours. It was at the Brussels Exhibition in 1839 that Robbe obtained his first honorary reward for a painting exhibited under this title: Animals in the Pasture, by Louis Robbe, lawyer in Courtrai. This painting earned him a second medal. Since then his artistic talent has only asserted itself.

I will not stop, Gentlemen, in listing to you the distinctions that Robbe obtained in various important Exhibitions in the country and abroad; suffice it to say that he was named Knight of the Order of Leopold in 1843; Knight of Charles III of Spain, in 1844; Knight of the Legion of Honor, in 1845; Officer of the Order of Leopold, in 1863; and in 1881, Commander of the same Order. I could not do better, gentlemen, to characterise Robbe's work than to borrow a passage from the pamphlet, as remarkable in content as in form, as an authorised art critic, Mr. Émile Leclercq, dedicated to Robbe:

‘It is especially in his studies,’ he writes, ‘that Robbe showed his knowledge, his colouring, his spirit of observation. Each of them is a painting, as the animal, fox, dog, ox, donkey, sheep, is well defined in its bones, in its muscles, in its hair. They are at the same time the product of passionate passion and of knowledge which is forced to be exact in broad terms of the model, in order to arrive at the character and style. Some of his studies are like pieces of sculpture, they are so firmly modelled. The attitude of the animals never bothered him, shortcuts mattered little to him; he was not afraid of finding himself grappling with violent movements. His bull fights make you shudder. The cunning of the fox is depicted in all his pose, from the tail up to the snout, in the discreet and careful paws which skim the earth without any more noise than the flight of a bird, in the thin flanks which betray hunger, a hunger which will not forgive its victims.’”


Indépendance Belge

“We learn of the death of the painter Louis Robbe, an artist who was for a long time at the head of the Belgian Animal School. Born in Courtrai in 1807, and from 1820 to 1824 a student at the academy of his native town, Louis Robbe then studied humanities, then law. From 1830 he was lawyer for the finance department and from then on, led painting and the bar. As a painter, he devoted himself essentially to landscapes full of animals. In 1855, at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, a large canvas which is now in the modern museum in Brussels earned him a second medal. In 1845, he was decorated with the Legion of Honor. He was an officer of the order of Leopold. His work is considerable. Louis Robbe was an initiator. He gave the signal for a renovation of the kind to which he devoted his talent.”

L’Art Moderne

“Belgian art has just lost one of its veterans, the painter Louis Robbe, who died in Brussels on May 2 in his eighty-first year. He was born in Courtrai on November 17, 1806. He was one of the first to replace the studio painting with the direct study of nature. If he was left behind on this path, if his art remained imbued with the ideas and formulas of his time to the point of appearing very backward today, it would be unfair to ignore the part he took in the emancipation of painting.

It required some audacity, at the time of its beginnings, to represent cows, simple cows grazing a meadow or dozing in the moist peace of the stable. The horse was tolerated, on the condition that it was painted pawing and prancing and that it was designated under the name of ‘noble steed’ or ‘indomitable horse’. But cows, done! These disinherited people captivated the predilections of the artist, who studied them standing, lying down, in herds, isolated, wallowing in the pastures, plunged waist-deep into the freshness of the watering troughs, colourfully marbling the beaches of the sea or the shore rivers.

In his long career, which includes more than fifty years of incessant activity, he painted an innumerable number of paintings and studies. At all exhibitions, his name appears at the bottom of some new composition, once greeted by applause, then fading, little by little, in the sadness of twilight.

Louis Robbe, before being a painter, was a lawyer. Registered on the roll of the Order on November 5, 1835, he has continued to appear since then, honoris causa, although for twenty-five years he has not set foot in the Palace, and at all the general meetings of the Bar his name was called immediately after that of the dean, Mr Dequesne. He also had quite a reputation as a lawyer. He had been chosen as counsel by the Ministry of Finance, and in this capacity litigated a number of cases, especially in tax matters.

He abruptly broke with the profession, by one of those rapid determinations which were in his nature. From that moment on he divided his time between his studio on rue Joseph 11, - where he lived very retired, surrounded by the affectionate and unalterable devotion of his daughter, Mme Maria Robbe, and Flanders, where he wandered in the summer, in search of paintings, his old servant, Amélie, who was always seen following him, gravely carrying the painting box and the artist's chair, handing him his muffler when the wind freshened, and, encamped, knitting in hand, behind him, formulating a reasoned opinion on the study begun...

Sometimes, at an exhibition of the Artistic Circle or at a triennial Salon, the tall stature of Louis Robbe appeared, and if the artist approached you, it was inexhaustible monologues, in a good, slightly mocking humour, underlined funny faces, strewn with green words, innuendoes, sharp points, with complaints, always renewed, about his state of health; ‘I am not sleeping, my dear sir. It's a terrible disease! It's been twenty years since I last slept. I drink chloral like water. Nothing helps, You can't imagine the suffering I endure!....’ And when, in the afternoon, we presented ourselves at the door of the workshop, often, in the antechamber, Mr Robbe would stop the visitor, a finger on the lips, with his angelic Madonna smile: ‘Shh! He sleeps…’

But the old painter was sincere when he imagined himself to be the victim of all the calamities that can overwhelm a man. His robust constitution triumphed over everything, and it was at the age of eighty that he died, after having completed an extraordinarily fulfilling career. He was, it goes without saying, abundantly decorated and medalled, and one of his main paintings is in a beautiful place at the State Painting Museum.”

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