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Oscar Nottebohm

The Nottebohm Room in the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library is named after the Antwerp patron Oscar Nottebohm (1865-1935). This particular descendant of the Nottebohm family was a grandson of Diederich Wilhelm Nottebohm who moved to Antwerp from Bielefeld in 1811.

Although Oscar no longer engaged in trading the colonies like his grandfather (the Nottebohm firm was taken over in 1882 by Albert de Bary & Co.), he did continue the family tradition of making bequests. In this regard he followed in the footsteps of his uncle, August Nottebohm, who had already left one hundred thousand Belgian francs to the City of Antwerp in 1883 for the purposes of embellishment. Oscar’s brother, the diplomat Frederic Benjamin Nottebohm, repeated the exercise in 1913. In addition his mother, Maria von Laer,the widow of André Gaspard Nottebohm, displayed signs of being a generous benefactor: in 1901 she set up a hospital for sufferers of skin diseases, better known as the Nottebohm Hospital.

Between 1908 and 1917, Oscar Nottebohm donated numerous paintings to the City of Antwerp. After his death (on 30th September 1935) he bequeathed considerable sums, including fufty thousand francs for the Permanent Endowment Fund for the City Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum, of which he was a member. His will also made reference to paintings, sculptures, auction catalogues and art books, plus one hundred thousand francs for the Museum of Fine Arts and fifty thousand for the Butcher’s Hall and ‘Steen’ museums. He donated a further twenty-five thousand francs to the People’s Library. At the suggestion of librarian Lode Baekelmans this money was used to buy children’s books for the newly established children’s reading rooms in the four branches.

The Nottebohm Room

In 1936, by way of a posthumous thank-you, the city council decided to name the new room in the Sodality the Nottebohm Room. In honour of the donation the People’s Library organized an exhibition a year later. In addition to the portrait of Oscar Nottebohm, a selection of his books in question was displayed. The family coat of arms was also incorporated into one of the windows of the town hall. The ceremonial unveiling of the glass window by the mayor Camille Huysmans took place on 13th March 1937.