Belgian painter and sculptor. He was from very humble origins, but his talent for drawing was detected at an early age. He was sent to the Antwerp Academie, where he attended classes given by Willem Herreyns
and Mathieu Ignace Van Bre. During a stay in Paris from 1829 to 1832 he came into contact with the Romantic painters, in particular Thodore Gricault,
who fostered his admiration for Rubens.
In 1832 he won the Belgian Prix de Rome and in 1834 left for Italy where the works of Raphael
and, above all, Michelangelo
made an overwhelming impression on him. In Rome he abandoned the landscapes and scenes from Roman life, for which he showed a certain talent, and embarked on a much more ambitious work, the Greeks and the Trojans Contesting the Body of Patroclus (1835; Brussels, Muse Wiertz). The painting proved the turning-point in Wiertzs career. Its frenzied composition and violently contorted figures excited considerable interest in Rome. Children fled from it with cries of horror, a fact that delighted the painter. Bertel Thorvaldsen
commented, This young man is a giant a somewhat hasty judgement, constantly repeated by later biographers, which nevertheless determined his subsequent development. In Antwerp and Liège Wiertz was at once acclaimed. He then sent the picture to Paris, expecting final consecration of his genius. However, it was badly hung in the Salon, went unnoticed by the public and was criticized by the press. Wiertzs bitter disappointment was expressed in an undying hatred of Paris, which he never ceased to attack for its dissipation, stupidity and artistic incompetence.
In 1839 he settled in Liège with his mother, painting grandiose mythological and historical subjects, which he believed would immortalize him, and portraits to earn a living. The latter, such as the Artists Mother (1838; Brussels, Muse des Arts Anciennes), were passable, while the former were merely superficial pastiches of Rubens and Michelangelo. However, the new Belgian State was keen to discover geniuses of the national art and admired his weakly Raphaelesque Education of the Virgin (1843, Brussels, Muse Wiertz) and in particular the Revolt of the Rebel Angels (1842; Brussels, Muse Wiertz), a huge picture that Wiertz painted in a few weeks, in an effort to match the panache of Rubenss brushwork.
The Belgian government built him a special studio in Brussels (now the Wiertz Museum) to produce these bizarre (and often macabre and erotic) works, and he said they were painted for honour and his portraits for bread.