New statue planned in honour of Dog of Flanders

Summary

The 19th-century novel A Dog of Flanders is hugely popular in other parts of the world, and two Antwerp tour guides are working to improve its presence here

Big in Japan

Proposals are being accepted for a design for a new statue honouring the story of Nello and his dog Patrasche, the characters from the 19th-century novel A Dog of Flanders. The story of a young boy who rescues a dog from its cruel master is a cultural phenomenon in East Asia but has been ignored in the region in which it is set.

The book was written by Marie Louise de la Ramée of England, who published it in 1872 under the pen name Ouida. An animal rights activist, de la Ramée was outraged during a trip to Antwerp to see large dogs put to work pulling wagons full of goods, a common activity in Belgium at the time. In response she wrote the sentimental book, which has a tragic ending that takes place in Antwerp’s cathedral.

The story has been translated into a few languages and particularly took hold in Japan and South Korea. There are 300 editions of the book in Japan, where it has become part of the collective culture. It is required reading for children, and a 1970s animated series was seen by 30 million people. The US has made five film versions of the story.

But Flanders has not embraced A Dog of Flanders, and – apart from a small statue in Hoboken (pictured), which usually serves to disappoint Japanese tourists – there is very little recognition of it in the region. A 2007 documentary and a follow-up exhibition did much to educate locals about the story and its cultural significance beyond Flanders’ borders.

Now tour guides Tanguy Ottomer and Philippe Blondé are joining the City of Antwerp in launching the competition for a new statue to stand on Handschoenmarkt in the shadow of the cathedral. Proposals are due by 4 July, and a decision is expected by the end of the year. Interested parties can find information on the Buro BeroepsBelg website.