The artwork of Allard l'Olivier

Picture:Femme MutusiFemme Mutusi
Picture:Chef agriculteur, KivuChef Mutusi
Picture:Femme au léopardFemme au Léopard
Femme indigène, KivuFemme Sorcière Usumbura

The Art Deco building of the Institute of Tropical Medicine is adorned with 12 beautiful paintings by Allard l'Olivier in the staircase and in some corridors.

Four of these paintings were turned into high-quality prints:

  • Femme Mutusi
  • Chef Mutusi
  • Femme au Léopard
  • Femme Sorcière Usumbura

The giclée printing technique gives the prints a colour fastness of at least 25 years. An ink jet printer sprays pigment ink on premium paper with high precision, which makes the prints look exactly like the original works of art. They even have actual silver in the background.

The prints come without frame and are 65x48 cm. The actual imprint is 53x44 cm.

Order your prints online

Support ITM’s activities and order your Allard l'Olivier prints online via PayPal. The price of a print is 100 euro, incl. VAT. 

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The story behind these paintings

Four of these paintings were photographed and 500 quality prints were made of each of them:


  • Femme Mutusi
  • Chef agriculteur, Kivu
  • Femme au léopard
  • Femme indigène, Kivu

The prints are made according to the giclee printing technique. With an inkjet printer different colors are applied to paper of the best quality with the highest precision. The ink is composed based on real pigments and gives a color fastness of at least 100 years. Moreover, sterling silver was fixated in the background, just like on the original works. The total size of the prints is 25" by 18", the image itself measures 20" by 16".

Order online

The prints by Allard l'Olivier can be ordered online with a valid credit card or using Paypal. By burying a print you support our activities. The prints are not framed and cost € 200 each (excluding VAT). If you are not able to order online, you can contact Andrea Zavala.


The Africanists

The growing interest in Belgium for the Congolese colony in the 19th century also incited Belgian artists to make their way to Congo. Their work resulted in a new movement, called 'Africanism'. The artists themselves were called 'Africanists'. These artists usually differed from the colonial administration because of their purely pacifist stance and the absence of prejudice.

Unlike the photographers, who extolled and visualised the benefits of Western civilization, most of the Africanist painters decided to ignore the results of the modernization. To them, Africa was black and not white. They usually travelled through Africa or lived there temporarily.

Fernand Allard l'Olivier

Fernand Allard L'Olivier was born in 1883 in Tournai and died on September 6, 1933 in Yanongé (Congo). He was part of the Africanists who were active in the 20th century, the so-called later years. They portrayed the beauty of the African tribes and emphasized the ethnic differences between peoples. By painting indigenous people with their scars, jewelry, hairstyle, color and arms they created authentic images. This type of realistic painting, which was descriptive and post-impressionist, boomed in Congo until the end of the colonial period.

First trip to Congo

In 1928 Allard l'Olivier traveled to the Belgian Congo for the first time to make a set of paintings in behalf of the Belgian government. These paintings would be placed in the Hall of Honour of the Congolese pavilion at the world exhibition in Antwerp in 1930. Following the advice of the director Genval, who worked for the colonial propaganda, Allard l'Olivier traveled to Congo in 1928 for the first time via the African east coast, so that he could study his subject locally.

In Dar es Salaam, where most European packet boats docked, he took the train to Kigoma and arrived in Bukavu, on the West shore of Lake Kivu. He had a pleasant stay, filled with work and plans for the future.

In Bukavu Allard l'Olivier portrayed the locals. Some (women) portraits with multicolored clothes almost seemed to have an Egyptian influence. The first drawings and sketches were exhibited in Elizabeth City and had such success that they were sold out within the hour.

The artist then went by train to a second exhibition in the neighboring town Jadot City. He used a wagon as residence and painting studio. This way he could easily move across the vast railway network with all his painting materials.

On his return to Belgium, Allard l'Olivier had an abundant collection of paintings, sketches and watercolors of dancing witches, Tutsi chiefs, magicians, fishermen and women at work. With this collection the Brussels art dealer Isy Brachot organised a major exhibition in 1929  in his "Galeries des Artistes Français". The exhibition was a huge success.

The Congo Palace at the World Expo
The Congo Palace at the World Expo

Allard l'Olivier sent out 12 sketches to the colonial administration that would form the basis for future work on the World Expo. Eventually eight monumental figures and nine scenes were exhibited. The scenes were supposed to display the course of a day at Lake Kivu. These works would later end up in the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp.



Second journey

In November 1932 Allard l'Olivier embarked in Antwerp for a second trip to Congo. He went to prepare illustrations for an album to encourage tourists to travel to Congo.

He wrote to a friend: « Je sens que je possède enfin la lumière de ce pays ; longtemps j’ai douté mais je suis rassuré à présent ; je travaille avec joie et allégresse. »

Allard l'Olivier
Allard l'Olivier around 1910

He traveled to Katanga through the Kingdom of Bakuba via Luluaburg, Cabinda, Usumbura, Ituri and Uele. He was invited by the king of Kuba to a big party where chiefs in full regalia with 500 red-painted women were present.

Satisfied with what he had achieved, he prepared for his return and wrote a last letter to his mother:  «  Ici , c’est la fantaisie, la sauvagerie savoureuse du moment. On se sent loin de tout et près des accidents toujours possibles. La forêt m’entoure ; 500  kilomètres de mystère. »

On June 9, 1933, he went aboard the tugboat Flandre. The slow pace and lengthy stopovers allowed him to paint scenes, portraits and landscapes. But on the way back to Leopoldville, he hit a lamp with his head and fell into the dark and muddy water. He was carried away by the current and three days later his body was found at Yanonge. He was buried on the spot in the Protestant mission. His death caused great consternation in the Belgian colonial circles.

The paintings in the Institute of Tropical Medicine

A Parisian, who visited the Institute of Tropical Medicine around 1990, let slip that there were a total of up to 24 paintings exhibited at the World Expo. So there had to be more copies still in circulation.

The Institute examined its archives and discovered three extremely precious canvases with African scenes made by Allard l'Olivier. These canvases were forgotten for years to dwindle. At the time they had not found enough space to hang them up and no one had considered donating them to a museum.

Today these rediscovered paintings also adorn the interior of the ITM. The paintings were conceived in Congo itself and finished on the return journey and in Belgium, between July 1929 and March 1930.

Picture:Safari carriers
Safari carriers - print not available

The common theme of the scenes is a kind of documentary about the crossing of Lake Kivu in its full length. The crossing was carried out in one day. The traveler departed at dawn from Bukavu (Costermans City) and moored in the evening in the Bay of Bobendana. In the meantime he had glanced at the fields in bloom, stopped by a procession of safari carriers, escaped unhurt the daily tornado or whirlwind, and attended a folk dance of natives.

Allard made portraits of tribal leaders, dancers, sorceresses, shamans, fishermen and farmers. The portraits are like state portraits. To display his subject at his or her best, he used a silver or tinned background. The use of tinfoil is natural and directly inspired by the blazing colorless sky of Congo, which looks like it is tinned in the dry season. The use of a metal background incidentally refers to a 14th century Byzantine decoration form, whereby the attention is strongly drawn to the represented person. The use of precious metals is also a constant in the Art Deco style.

Picture:Art on display at ITM
Art on display at ITM

The works radiate exoticism. They are stylish compositions with beautiful landscapes in which proud figures dwell. The large canvases, reflecting the tradition of the great wall paintings, show scenes that depict with undeniable poetry the daily lives of Africans. Although the landscape is part of the picture, the figures are always in the foreground.

The Congo shown by Fernand Allard l'Olivier has been shaped by his imagination and is not the real Congo. His view of the events is highly idealised. The landscapes are partly real and partly fabricated. Fernand Allard L'Olivier was a painter of light and life, of the play of light and shadow. He probably was the greatest representative of Africanism in Belgium.

Text based on the work of Marc Ailliet, Antwerp city guide: Ailliet M. 2004. Allard l'Olivier en zijn schilderijen in het Tropisch Instituut. Antwerpen: Provinciaal Centrum voor Volwassenenonderwijs.