What exactly is a stock market? / The Brussels Stock Exchange building

The Brussels Stock Exchange building

For 140 years, the Stock Exchange was the hub of the country financial activities. A few weeks ago, it was deserted by its most recent occupants. Before it could be given a new lease of life, it was important to remember its past. In other words, to tell the history of the Stock Exchange, a place where businesses were funded, and a site dedicated to progress. It was also important to explain what the Stock Exchange is, and to refresh its image. Going above and beyond facts and figures and its all-too-often scandalous reputation, which has been sustained by ignorance. Behind the Numbers, the exhibition that makes the Stock Exchange accessible to everyone…

The Brussels Stock Exchange building

The Brussels Stock Exchange building

In 1865, the architect Léon Suys submitted plans to make the city centre a healthier place, in particular by covering over the Senne between the Boulevard du Midi and the Boulevard d’Anvers. Part of this overall plan to revitalise business activities in Brussels involved the construction of a large building intended to house both the Stock Exchange and the Central Market.
Captivated by the plan, the Brussels authorities commissioned Léon Suys to draw up the plans for such a building. The agreement was signed in February 1868 and, on 15 June of that year, the plans were approved by the Council.

The building was located on the site of the former Recollets Franciscan convent, a building dating back to the thirteenth century and whose ruins can be seen in an underground museum in the Rue de la Bourse. Construction started in October 1869. The planned inauguration took place on 27 December 1873 and took the form of a grand ball in the presence of Kind Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette. Finishing work continued for several more months, and it wasn’t until the second quarter of 1874 that trading actually started.

The sculptors

The Stock Exchange’s main facade features a peristyle. Eight Corinthian columns support a mighty entablature decorated with a garland of flowers and fruit, symbol of Abundance. This is crowned by a triangular pediment in which Belgium is sculpted, surrounded by two spirits symbolizing Trade and Industry.

These sculptures are the work of Jean-Joseph Jacquet. He was also responsible for the two lions on either side of the stairs leading up to the peristyle.
These two enormous lions, one with its head raised, the other with its back bent watch over the majestic stairs of the main facade. Symbolising the rises and falls characteristic of any stock market, they are the Belgian equivalent of the famous “bears and bulls”.

The Brussels Stock Exchange building

His brother, Jacques Jacquet was responsible for the three groups on top of the pediment. The 3-figure group in the middle represents Freedom of Trade, while the two others show Transport by road and Transport by water.
There are three doors providing access to the building. Above the middle door, encircling the clock, the two winged figures represent the Good and the Bad. These are the work of Victor De Haen.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a famous French artist, operated a workshop in Brussels, made available to him by Suys, the architect. In it he worked on the mighty frieze which adorns the building. He was also responsible for the frieze above the ground-floor windows and the two groups of reclining spirits decorating two windows with curved pediments on the side walls. The latter represent Prudence and Vigilance and commercial Jurisprudence and the Rule of Law.

Antoine-Joseph van Rasbourgh was responsible for the two groups representing Africa and Asia on the south facade, and for the four caryatids – Commerce and Industry and the Arts – in the main hall.

Van Rasbourgh worked in Carrier-Belleuse’s atelier, where they were joined in 1871 by Auguste Rodin. The celebrated sculptor of the Thinker, Rodin left Paris after the fall of the Paris Commune and spent several years living in Brussels. This is why many people think that Rodin was also responsible for parts of Carrier-Belleuse’s frieze, though there is no archived material substantiating this assumption.

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