Last modified: 2021-02-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Ostend - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 November 1991
The municipality of Ostend (in Dutch, Oostend; in French, Ostend; 69,115 inhabitants in 2007; 3,772 ha) is the main Belgian sea resort, located on the North Sea. The municipality of Ostend was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Ostend, Stene and Zandvoorde.
Ostend was originally the eastern village on the island of Testerep,
while the western hamlet was called Westende, the central village,
Middelkerke (lit., Central Church) having the church. The island was incorporated to the mainland long ago. In 1445, Duke of Burgundy Philip the Handsome
decided the building of the port of Ostend, which boosted the
developemnt of the then small fishers' village. From 4 July 1601 to 22
September 1604, the long siege of Ostend was a main event in the Eighty
Years' War, ending with the victory of the Spaniards over the Dutch
entranched into the fortified port.
In 1722, King Charles VI founded the Ostend Company, which specialized in the importation of spices and rare goods from the Far East. In the 19th century, Ostend became the preferred sea resort of the aristocracy, including the Belgian Royal family, and was nicknamed "The Queen of the Seaside Resorts" or "The Most British Seaside Resort" by the Brits. Ostend still has the biggest casino in Belgium.
The emblem of Ostend is the painter James Ensor (1860-1949; biography), who was
born in the town and spent most of his life there. Having shown his
first painting in 1881, Ensor was a founding member of the
avant-guardist group XX<, but he was rapidly ostracized by the
progressive elit of the time. Fond of the French Neo-Impressionists,
people were upset by Ensor's immoderate use of nightmarish and
grotesque elements, such as skeletons, bones and masks, which recalled
him the souvenirs and carnival items sold in his mother's shop in
Ostend. A few visionary writers such as Émile Verhaeren, Edmond Picard and Eugène Demolder did not stop supporting him, so that he gained a belated recognition. A special issue of the French magazine La Plume (The Feather) was dedicated to the painter in 1899.
After the First World War, an Ensor Room was inaugurated in the Museum of Antwerp to show 40 paintings. Made Baron in 1929 and awarded the title of "Prince of the Painters", Ensor grew old as an ironic and lucid, "gild-edged" artist having lost any creativity for years; indeed Ensor did not paint anything significant after the 1890s, saying Les suffisances matamoresques appellent la finale crevaison grenouillère (The braggart's smugness calls the final froggish snuffing).
During his best period (1887-1893), often referred to as "fantastic irrealism", Ensor painted his masterpiece, L'Entrée du Christ à Bruxelles (The Entrance of Christ in Brussels, 1888), a buffoonic manifesto of modern painting crowded with flags and procession banners. The influence of the Flemish primitive painters, of Bosch and of Goya is clear there, like in all the paintings made by Ensor at that time.
Ensor did not had any disciple but he strongly influenced famous painters of the 20th century, such as Alechinsky, Nolde, Grosz, Klee and Jorn. He also influenced the playwright Michel de Ghelderorde, whose plays (Masque ostendais and Le siège d'Ostende) incorporate Ensor's preferred characters such as North Sea fishers, the Death and the Devil. The controversial artist and agitator Jan Bucquoy, also the director of Masques Ostendais, published the strip comic Le Bal du rat mort as a direct tribute to Ensor.
Another famous Belgian painter born in Ostend is Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946), mostly known for his melancolic and quite disturbing paintings of empty spaces (beaches and sea shores) inhabited by fuzzy silhouettes and self-portraits. A self-taught artist, he was close to the Symbolist writers Verhaeren and Maeterlinck, and one of the few friends of James Ensor. However, his art is unique, somewhere between Symbolism and Surrealism.
Also melancolic but not less original, the singer Arno Hintjens, aka
Arno, was born in Ostend in 1949. Once the cook of Marvin Gaye when the
great soul singer recovered in Ostend in 1981, Arno sings in English,
Dutch, Ostend dialect and French, today alone and in the past with
different, short-lived and fancyfully-named groups (TC Matic, Charles
et les Lulus, The Subrovniks). Sometimes compared to Tom Waits or Serge
Gainsbourg, Arno developed a very personal style he used for his own
compositions (Les yeux de ma mère) and very personal revival of French-speaking standards, such as Adamo's Les filles du bord de mer, Jacques Brel's Le Bon Dieu and Serge Gainsbourg's Elisa. He also made his own version of Comme à Ostende, a melancolic song dedicated to his own town, written not by him but by Jean-Roger Caussimon (1918-1985). An actor and lyric writer, Caussimon asked Léo Ferré (1916-1993) to put music on his lyrics, with such a wonderful result that everybody still believes the Ferré is the author of Comme à Ostende, Monsieur William (also revived by Phillipe Léotard), Nous deux and Le temps du tango. Caussimon never minded since Ferré and him were very good friends.
The melancolic chorus of the song says:
Comme à Ostende et comme partout / Like in Ostend and everywhere
Quand sur la ville tombe la pluie / When on the town falls the rain
Et qu'on s'demande si c'est utile / And when you wonder if it is useful
Et puis si surtout si ça vaut l'coup / And mostly if it is worthwhile
Si ça vaut l'coup / If it is worthwhile
D'vivre sa vie / To live his life.
Ostend is the birth town of the Belgian judoka Robert Van De Walle (b. 1954), gold medalist in the Moscow Olympic Games (1980) and bronze medalist in the Seul Olymic Games (1988) in half-heavyweight category, also three times European champion (1980, 1985 and 1986).
Ivan Sache, 15 September 2007
The flag of Ostend is horizontally divided red-yellow.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a], the flag, adopted by on 26 April 1985 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 2 September 1985 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 July 1986 in the Belgian official gazette.
This flag was indeed already officially recognized under the Burgundian
rule, when the ships of Ostend had two flags, Burgundy and the
In 1787, Emperor Joseph II ordered that the ships of his states ne prennent que le seul pavillon autrichien ("fly only the Austrian ensign", original text in French) and recognized only six additional flags, including le pavillon particulier d'Ostend ("the special Ostend flag", original text in French).
Wilson's "Flags at Sea" [wil86] has a wimpel for "Ostend" and an "Ostend Fighting" flag (p. 68, flagchart by William Downman, 1685-86), and an "Ostend Ensign" (p. 69).
Pascal Vagnat, Jarig Bakker & Ivan Sache, 15 September 2007
Royal North Sea Yacht Club
The Royal North Sea Yacht Club at Ostend (website) was founded during winter 1946-47,
receiving the port's Montgomery Dock (cap. 100 yachts) as a base of
operations. Very active in organizing races, the club has a substantial
number of Dragon Class boat owners as members.
Special vessels are the committee boat and two Zodiac pneumatic boats. Since 2004, the Mercator Dock (named after a former Belgian school ship), renamed Mercator Marina, is under the club's responsibility as well.
A photography on the club website shows a white burgee with off-set cross in the Belgian colours (red on yellow with a thin black outside border) and a royal crown in the upper hoist.
Another photography shows another burgee, unfortunately unclear - perhaps the version for officials - seemingly having a Belgian cockade, crowned, in the upper hoist.
Jan Mertens, 18 May 2007
Royal Yacht Club d'Ostende et Royal Motor Club de Belgique
Burgee of RYCDO - Image by José Carlos Alegria Diaz & Jaume Ollé, 29 October 1999
The burgee of the RYCDO is red with two yellow triangles placed along the hoist and a Royal crown in the red field.
Ivan Sache, 29 October 2005
Watersport Oostende Spuikom
Burgee of WOS - Image by Ivan Sache, 4 February 2020
Watersport Oostende Spuikom (WOS; website) has its club house and a large number of mooring places at the Spuikom. Planned for drainage, the Spuikom was never used as such but proved handy for growing oysters, preserving and investigating nature, and even served as a landing place for German seaplanes during the Second World War.
The club burgee, as shown on drawings on the WOS website, is white with stylized blue letters WOS, correctly read in the vertical position.
Jan Mertens, 17 March 2007
Ostend pilot flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 March 2019
Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des marines de guerre et de commerce (1889) [f9r89] shows the Ostend pilot flag as green with "03" in white.
Ivan Sache, 25 March 2019