The battles of the Meuse


Discover and understand the Diorama by Alfred Bastien

The Diorama

Painting on canvas ‑ 8 metres x 72 metres ‑ 1937 ‑ Alfred Bastien

Painted in 1937, the Diorama of the Battles of the Meuse depicts the German offensive in summer 1914 and the invasion of Belgium.
It is a warning cry from Alfred Bastien, who was worried about the rise of Nazism in the new German Reich.

A long‑forgotten work, the Diorama of the Battles of the Meuse offers a bird’s eye view of the Meuse valley, seen from the left bank of the river (West).

The painting is divided into separate scenes, each depicting a particular moment in those tragic weeks of the German attack on neutral Belgium in August and September 1914.

From the summer harvests on the left and the destruction of Namur and Dinant, through to the dead tree, symbol of the victims of war, on the right, History unfolds throughout this Diorama.

It is also a warning cry.


Unveiled in 1937, the Diorama of the Battles of the Meuse is designed to alert the viewer.

Once again war is not far away…

The Diorama

Discover the main scenes of the work of Alfred Bastien while clicking on the interactive zones.
You can also zoom in or laterally surf to visualize the whole painting.

In detail

Understand the meaning of the main scenes of the Diorama, put in perspective, explained and illustrated


Liège, early August 1914: Belgium’s army mobilises

The invasion

The Germans trample the ground of Liège

Resistance in Liège

German atrocities are triggered in the Province of Liège


An anything‑but‑peaceful dove in the skies over Liège

Resistance in Namur

Namur prepares to enter the war

German time

The enemy occupies the city from the end of the month

The occupation

Namur suffers heavy damage


The Fortified Position of Namur (P.F.N.) surrenders

The Red Cross

The role of the Belgian Red Cross in battle

Bridge of Jambes

Belgian sappers destroy the bridge at Jambes

In the province

It’s the turn of the Province of Namur to suffer German reprisals

Towards Dinant

The Germans mark the road to Dinant with other atrocities


The Germans reach the Meuse valley

15th August

15th August in Dinant: the story of a long day

23th August

Dinant counts its dead

The collegiate

Dinant collegiate church sees its umpteenth restoration

The clashes on the Meuse

The Germans make their presence felt in the Meuse Valley

The small neighborhoods

German savagery does not spare small neighbourhoods

Natural surroundings

Trees: wounded witnesses, symbols of the war

Alfred Bastien, the painter

Alfred BASTIEN (1873 ‑ 1955) is one of the great Belgian masters of dioramas and panoramas. He is also known for his abundant production of easel paintings.


Born in 1873 in Ixelles, Alfred BASTIEN was the eighth child of a modest family. Affected at a very young age by the premature deaths of his sister, brother and mother, Alfred left the family home to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels.

Alfred Bastien

In October 1914, a few weeks after the start of the war, Bastien takes himself off to England, later joining up as a war volunteer in 1915.

In 1916 he is assigned to the arts section of the Belgian army and is seconded, in 1918, to the Canadian army. During those long months he paints numerous war scenes, both in Belgium and in France. Beginning at this time, the artist establishes close contacts with the Royal family, whom he meets on several occasions.

Throughout his life, Alfred BASTIEN sought to share his passion for art and painting, both as a teacher, then as Director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels.

A committed pacifist, he was also known for his political commitment, in particular with the Belgian Communist Party. Alfred BASTIEN died on 7th June 1955.

major Georges P.Vanier
Library and Archives Canada pencil sketch / Creative Commons


Immense paintings illustrating landscapes often depicting scenes from history, panoramas and dioramas are a spectacular and immersive form of art whose golden age was the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Technically, panoramas differ from dioramas in that the former offer viewers a 360° view while the latter are flat or slightly curved paintings.
Invented in 1787 by the Scottish painter Robert BARKER, the panorama is a vast circular painting displayed in a rotunda so that the visitor, viewing it from a platform in the centre of the panorama can survey the painting on all sides from every angle.
The feeling of trompe‑l’œil is heightened further by overhead lighting concealed by a canopy.

Robert BARKER, 1787, the first panorama / Creative Commons

Picture : Ferditje / Creative Commons


Often enhanced by elements positioned in the foreground of the painting (figures, objects, plants, painted sets, etc.), the panorama (and hence also the diorama) is designed to create the illusion of being in the very centre of the action or scene depicted.
As forerunners of the cinema, both in terms of dimensions and the care taken by the artist to immerse the viewer in a story or scene that is completely different, the panorama and the diorama very quickly enjoyed significant success in Europe and North America. Early examples usually depicted panoramic urban scenes, enabling viewers to discover foreign or idealised cities.
Then, from the 19th century onwards, the subjects began to diversify. The theme of war was taken up by a number of artists, often as part of propaganda exercises for European nations. The exotic also gains the public’s interest. It was the golden age of colonialism and European viewers were keen to discover landscapes from Africa and far‑off America. The rise of the cinema between the wars saw the gradual decline in this form of art. It had remained popular for a long period of time and is seeing interest rekindled today among numerous creative artists around the world.

Franz ROUBAUD - Panorama of the battle of Borodino in 1812

Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Creative Commons


Monumental in size, the painting by Alfred BASTIEN depicts a bird’s eye view of the banks of the Meuse. To the extreme left is the area of Liège, with its hills and strongholds. Then comes the tragic defence of Namur and environs: the city, on fire in several places, is shown in flames in the background, while in the foreground we see Belgian and French troops leaving Namur and beginning the retreat ordered by General Michel.
The painting tells a story, depicting the early days of the German invasion, from the carefree atmosphere of the harvest to the sad spectacle of the dead tree, foretelling the terrible carnage to come.


Close up, the brushstrokes appear relatively coarse, but the work needs to be viewed from a certain distance, as do all dioramas and panoramas.
Stepping back a few paces enables the viewer to appreciate how well Alfred BASTIEN masters his painting technique.

The depth of field, between the curve of the Meuse, the hills in the distance and the dead tree, which alone dominates this side of the river, gives viewers the impression of approaching the picture as if to contemplate the scene of desolation on the far bank.

Looking at the painting more closely, the artist’s technical mastery becomes clear, especially in the method he adopts for painting water, earth and sky. The smoke rising from the hills gives the impression of becoming lost in the tormented sky, while at the foot of the Dinant Citadel, the flames ravaging the collegiate church are reflected in the waters of the Meuse.

By placing the grandiose spectacle of the natural surroundings opposite the catastrophe caused by men and war, Alfred BASTIEN prompts us to think, to consider the consequences of our destructive impulses.

Clearly, this work has a message.


After his years of studying, spent in Ghent, Brussels and Paris, where he copied the old masters, became caught up in romanticism of Delacroix and the realism of Courbet, as well as coming under the influence of the impressionists, Alfred BASTIEN undertook long journeys in Europe, North Africa, the Belgian Congo, India, Japan, China and the south Pacific islands.

Ghent University Library - Creative Commons

In 1911, at the request of King Albert, the Belgian government commissioned Bastien and Paul Mathieu to paint the Congo Panorama to be displayed at the 1913 Universal International Exposition in Ghent. Illustrating the colony in its most wide and varied aspects, the colourful work was enormously successful.

Ghent University Library - Creative Commons


During the war, as official artist of the Belgian army and for a number of months as artist assigned to the Canadian army, Alfred Bastien produced some of his finest works – testimony to the reality of the fighting on the fronts in Belgium and France.

In addition to his war production, Bastien was also a prolific painter who produced an incalculable number of easel paintings depicting landscapes, still life studies, figurative scenes and portraits.

ALFRED BASTIEN - Canadian Cavalry Ready in a Wood
Canadian War Museum / Public domain


In 1919 and 1920, he worked with Charly Léonard and Charles Swyncop to paint the Panorama of the Battle of the Yser in 1914, depicting one of the key battles in the early war, with its procession of victims and destruction.

THE PANORMA of the YSER - 1920
sequence of news on the visit of the Belgian Minister of defence at the exhibition of the painter Bastien (1873-1955)
Cinémathèque Royale of Belgium - EFG - The European Film Gateway / Public domain

Panorama of the battle of the Yser
excerpt - fires of the halles of Ypres


The painter was also a tireless reader and prolific writer.
Throughout his life, in his personal diaries, he recorded his thoughts about the political, everyday and artistic life of his times.
He also maintained an abundant correspondence with numerous personalities of the time. His writings reveal the importance that the diorama of the Battles of the Meuse represents in his eyes.

15th November 1935

“I have begun the first sketches of the Meuse in 1914.”

November 1935

“The rocks at Freyr… by Courbet, with the fluidity of the Meuse that will always pursue me. Ah, good big brother!”

14 February 1936

“The contract for the Panorama of the Battles of the Meuse in 1914 is to be signed. It will be placed in Namur and will very probably mean a major change in our life: the dream of that little house in the Ardennes, close to the Meuse, in the woods… may well come to pass… it would be so good! Insha’allah!”

22 April 1936

“Good day. I have begun the sky, the blue horizons, very fine, very distant… groups of horses. I’m getting my hand in. Forty metres are already done. Each panel ‑ and there are four of them ‑ is 144 metres long.

16 July 1936

“Should I paint the horrors of war or not? Putting decency before horror, it would be no! Because it’s awful. But then you’d have to burn all the Rubens, the Torture scenes ‑ and the Goyas and the Manets. It would be a lie to History and my painting is accurate, a warning”.


The early days of the war in pictures.

Attacks on the forts
The diary of Alfred Bastien
The Sack of Dinant

View from the experts

Understand the historical context but also the artistic and pictorial approach.

Axel Tixhon
Bénédicte Rochet
Natasja Peeters
Sandrine Smets

Understanding the Diorama

While it recalls the German attack on Belgium in 1914, the diorama is also designed as an alarm call from the artist to denounce the new threat represented by Nazi Germany as the Second World War approached.

The battles of the Meuse

The diorama by Alfred Bastien depicts some of the key moments of the German invasion in August and September 1914.
The important dates in this period are shown to facilitate understanding of how events unfolded.

The assassination of Archduke François‑Ferdinand, heir to the Austria‑Hungary empire on 28th June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist student sets the powder keg alight.
In a matter of weeks, the various alliances, stirred up by nationalist fever all over Europe, ends in a series of declarations of war.

One by one, the countries of the "Triple Alliance" (the central empires of Germany and Austria‑Hungary; Italy opts to remain neutral, but changes camp in 1915) face the countries of the "Triple Entente" (France, Russia and Great Britain) and their allies (Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro).

On 4th August, to avoid the French defensive lines, German troops enter Belgium.
Protected in theory by its neutrality, Belgium is one of the first victims of what will develop into the Great War.

The people of Namur at war

In August 1914, the German army decides to invade France by passing through Belgium.
In the front line, the people of Namur still remember this brutal invasion.

Contribute to the project

The aim of the Battles of the Meuse Webdocumentary is to record in the best possible way this dreadful period of history that witnessed the invasion and occupation of Belgium by the German Army during the First World War and in particular the events of August and September 1914 depicted in the painting by Alfred BASTIEN.

To achieve this, we invite all those people, families or organisations who may hold archives or documents illustrating or explaining this period (photographs, postcards, letters, historical documents, etc.) to submit them to us so that they can be incorporated into this Webdocumentary (scanned documents or electronic version) as additional contributions to the project.

The main idea behind this initiative to which everyone can contribute and take part, is to create a Webdocumentary that is constantly being added to and enhanced by Internet users themselves.

Thank you in advance for joining in with this project.

To become a contributor to the Web documentary of battles of the Meuse, you must first create a contributor account by completing the listed information fields.

I have my account contributor and I identify myself to propose new documents.

fr nl