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LaFarge, Maj. L. Bancel | Langui, Emile | Larwood, Capt. James B.

Langui, Emile  

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives, Belgian Official

Emile Langui was born on October 31, 1903 in Brussels. He spent his early childhood traveling with a small circus, as his father was a wrestler who performed with the troupe. From 1919 to 1923, Langui attended a teacher’s training college, then began teaching at a public high school in Ghent. He soon returned to university to follow his passion and study art history. In 1928, he was graduated with a Bachelors of Arts and Archaeology from the University of Ghent. Langui began teaching art history at the Charles de Kerckhove Institute in Ghent, and also wrote for the Vooruit newspaper as the art and arts literature correspondent. In 1936, he passed an examination to become a curator at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, but two years later was named secretary to the Minister of Public Works. At this time he also co-founded and managed Radio-Flanders.

During World War II, Langui actively participated in the resistance movement, and was even jailed for a month in the fall of 1943 on suspicion of espionage. He participated in the battles to liberate Ghent, Zelzate, and Terneuzen, and then went on to join the Belgian effort to recover looted artworks.1 He joined Lt. Col. Leo Van Puyvelde, director of the Belgian museums and Langui’s former professor of medieval art at the University of Ghent, on a trip to visit Alt Aussee, where the famous Ghent Altarpiece by Van Eyck had recently been discovered in a salt mine. However, the two Belgian officials arrived in the summer of 1945 without authorization and were not permitted to take the altarpiece back home.2 Langui continued to deal with restitution efforts, and was present when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and the Ghent Altarpiece were eventually returned to Belgium. He also wrote numerous articles in the weekly Zondagspost which discussed stolen works of art and the repositories they were found in. One article, written on the subject of non-fraternization between Allied officials and the German populace, was signed in his pseudonym, “Major Jim.” Langui’s interest in restitution continued throughout the rest of his career, and in 1975 he appeared on a French television program in a debate on protected and stolen works of art during World War II.

In 1946, Langui became an attaché at the Ministry of Public Education in Belgium. He worked in the Fine Arts and Letters department and assisted in organizing public exhibitions designed to make art accessible to all citizens, and also began promoting Belgian art in other countries. As part of this mission, he was commissioner of the Belgian Pavillion at biennial celebrations in Venice and Sao Paulo for several years. In 1956 Langui was promoted to Director General of Fine Arts and Letters at the Department of Public Education. In this role he initiated an annual exhibition of artworks recently acquired by the government at the Fine Arts Museum, and in 1958 organized the “Fifty Years of Modern Art” exhibit at the World Fair in Brussels. From 1963 to 1968, Langui served as Administrator-General of Dutch Cultural Services at the Fine Arts Division of the Department of National Education and Culture (the department was divided into French and Dutch linguistic sections in 1958). Although he formally retired in 1968, Langui remained active in his profession and traveled extensively, continuing to serve as chairman of various committees and participating in multiple conferences and events.

Langui received numerous awards and honors during his remarkable career. In 1955, he became a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Sciences, Literature, and Fine Arts, and later served on the administrative committee and was assistant director of the fine arts class. He was named commander, and later grand officer, of the Belgian Order of the Crown, as well as officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. In 1972, he was given the great honor of being named grand officer of the Order of King Leopold. Other countries honored Langui as well. In 1962, he was named commander of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Belgian-Dutch cultural agreement. Czechoslovakia also paid tribute to his efforts to promote cultural links between the two countries, and in 1966 the Minister of Culture awarded Langui a gold medal. In 1970, Yugoslavia named him commander of the Order of the Star. Langui died in 1980 in Anderlecht, and was buried in Elsene, Belgium.3

1. Carine Meeus, “Biography of Emile Langui” (unpublished biography, 2006) Translated by Arlette Quervel.
2. Lynn Nicholas, The Rape of Europa (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
3. Meeus.


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