Museums Belgium

Art from the 19th century’s end gets a new beginning in Brussels

Royal Museums of Fine Arts open renovated fin-de-siècle galleries this weekend

Alphonse Mucha, The Nature, 1899-1900, part of the Gillion Crowet collection. Photo: Bruno Piazza (Gillion Crowet)

The Fin-de-Siècle Museum opened in Brussels on 6 December, presenting art from 1868 to 1914. Although billed as a separate museum, it is part of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. It follows the establishment of the Magritte Museum, which opened in 2009.

The Fin-de-Siècle rooms are on the four lower levels of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts’ 1984 extension on the Rue de la Régence/Regentschapsstraat. Although only 30 years old, the building suffered from unsafe wiring and poor fire detection. It therefore had to be closed in 2010 for a major renovation. The galleries now have upgraded climate controls, proper fire measures and improved security.

In organising the redisplay, the museum’s director general Michel Draguet has focussed on the development of Belgian art, presenting it within a European context. Paintings, along with works on paper and sculptures, are shown in a series of chronological themes, ranging from realism to symbolism. Key artists represented include James Ensor, Théo van Rysselberghe, Fernand Khnopff and Léon Spilliaert.

The most important addition is the Gillion Crowet collection on the lowest level. This comprises Art Nouveau paintings and decorative art (glass, silver and furniture), collected by the Brussels-based Roland Gillion and his wife Anne-Marie Crowet. Under a recent economic change, this was the first major collection (valued at €27m) acquired by a Belgian museum through inheritance tax concessions.

The cost of the new museum was €8.7m, with €5m coming from Belgium’s building agency. Because of government budget problems, this money dried up half way through the renovation work, delaying the opening by six months.

Meanwhile the post-1914 galleries, which also closed in 2010, remain shut, with only a small proportion of the collection on display, in a single room and scattered in the original building. A new Modern Art Museum is due to reopen by 2018, in the Vanderborght building in the city centre.

James Ensor, The Singular Masks, 1892. Photo: © Sabam Belgium, RMFAB, Vincent Everarts Photographie, Bruxelles
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