According to Graham at Linguism, some people think Belgium is an adjective. Well, whatever. What struck me about his post was his claim that “most people find it difficult to name ten famous Belgians without falling back on Tintin and Hercule Poirot.” Which I expect is true.
One of Belgium’s problems in the competition for famous representatives is that it is such a young country, formed in 1830-1831. I am currently reading about Charles V “of Spain” in J. H. Elliot’s Imperial Spain: 1469-1716. He was really a Fleming (having inherited the throne through his mother Juana the Mad), and largely an absentee monarch — does that make him a famous Belgian? Is anyone from Flanders or Wallonia fair game? What about supercronopio Julio Cortazar, who was born in Brussels but grew up in Argentina — can we count him? Is Marguerite Yourcenar Belgian or is she French?
Well, let’s try to be strict. We’ll leave out Charlemagne and Bruegel and van Eyck and the like, and restrict ourselves to the post-independence period. Here then is my list of 10 famous Belgians, sensu stricto.
- James Ensor, painter
- René Magritte, painter
- Paul Delvaux, painter
- Victor Horta, architect
- Georges Simenon, author
- Michel de Ghelderode, author
- The various Leopolds, monarchs (Leo II was the most evil of the lot)
- Tom Boonen, cyclist
- Kim Clijsters, tennis player
- Hergé, cartoonist
I like the artist Marcel Broodthaers and might have listed him — is he famous? — but for some reason I can never get his name right — I had to look him up on the internet, like I always do. So I figured I can’t really count him.
There are probably Belgians I’m leaving out who are more famous than some of these. Who are they?
Image: Detail of front entrance, Horta House, Brussels (photo taken October 2005 when I was in Belgium for a press check in Ghent)