Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

Fernand Scribedreef 1

9000 Ghent


P 0032 (0)9 240 07 00


During the French occupation in 1792, the Revolutionary troops laid claim to paintings, sculptures and other valuable objects from churches, religious orders, guilds and other curatorial institutions. The civil leadership of Ghent collected works that were destined for the forthcoming Musée du Département de L'Escaut and in this way saved works of art from their demise. These works were immediately brought to the abbey of Baudeloo. Still, a preliminary selection was made from works that were sent to the Louvre or to other newly established museums in French provinces. The four central panels of the Ghent Altarpiece of the brothers van Eyck were transported to Paris, as well as works by Rubens (amongst which the Conversion of Saint Bavo, whose provenance was also the Saint Bavo Cathedral), Gaspar de Crayer, Gerrit Honthorst, Theodoor Boeyermans, Theodoor Rombouts and others disappeared in the direction of France. The works that remain in Ghent, and that were predestined for the new museum, form the basis of the collection of the present-day Museum of Fine Arts. Beginning in 1802, these works were brought to the church of the old Saint Peter's abbey. They are accessible to the public.

In 1810, at a local auction, the city of Ghent purchases 5 tapestries from the series The Glorification of the Gods (1707) after the patterns of Jan van Orley (1665-1735) and Augustin Coppens (1668-1740).

One year later, in 1811, the museum is installed in the buildings of the Academy. Because of educational reasons, the two institutions are assimilated. The instructors of the Academy regret the lacuna in the education of future artists and hope that the example of the works of Flemish artists from the Golden Century will have a profound effect.

Among the works of art that are exhibited in the Academy, are, inter alia, Rubens' Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, one of the three works from the Recollectenkerk (the other two go to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Rijsel and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels) as well as various canvases by Gaspar de Crayer, amongst which is The Crowning of Saint Rosalia (recovered in 1817) and the works made for the decoration of the Triumphal Arch in Ghent for the Glorious Entrance of Cardinal-Infant Ferdinand of Spain in 1635. Not to mention The Dream of Saint Joseph by Gerard Seghers. Other religious works make up a portion of this same foundation. Primarily, this deals with work from local painters from the milieu of Gaspar de Crayer or work that fall under the general category of the so-called Caravaggio style. This deals with work from a rather average level, with the exception of the pieces by Jan Janssens. The work of Nicolas de Liemaeckere (1575-1646) comes to mind, as well as Antoon van den Heuvel (ca. 1600-1677) and Anselmus Van Hulle (1601-after 1674). In addition, there are also still lives, landscapes and interior scenes that were taken into custody during the French occupation, such as, for example, Still Life by Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680), Still Life by Paul de Vos or the church interiors of Hendrik Cornelisz. Van Vliet (1611-1675). Few sculptural works find their way back to the museum. The marble Saint Livinus by Laurent Delvaux (1696-1778) from the pulpit of the Jesuit church in Ghent is an exception.

The spaces that are reserved in the Academy for the collection of the museum are cramped and do not allow for the collection to be presented in all its glory. This lack of space causes a second problem: there is no place for new acquisitions. Between 1810 and the establishment of the Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1897, few new works are taken up into the collection, with the exception of Portrait of Jan Boecksent in 1814, given by François Huyttens (?-1819), Director of the Academy and The Redemption of Saint Peter by Pieter Neefs I (1578-1661), given in 1832 by Charles Van Hultem (1764-1832), who was one of the important figures regarding the origination of the museum and Allegory of the Five Senses by Theodoor Rombouts, which was purchased in 1860 at a public sale from the estate of Canon Antonius Triest (1576-1657), Bishop of Ghent.

The establishment of the Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts on 12 December 1897, under the chairmanship of Fernand Scribe (1851-1913) was a determining factor for the Baroque collection. The mission of the group was to fill in the lacunae with regards to the Old Masters. In this period, the museum only purchases work by contemporary artists. Fernand Scribe surrounded himself with enlightened amateurs and professionals who presided over an extensive network, such as the art historian Georges Hulin de Loo (1862-1945), who was a professor at the University of Ghent, or artists such as Jean Delvin (1853-1922), who was the Director of the Academy.

Thanks to the personalities and their diversified taste, the MSK possesses work such as Portrait of a Woman by Frans Hals (Ca. 1582-1666), purchased at a public sale in Antwerp in 1898. Or, L'Etude de bétail by Nicolas Berchem (1620-1683), which was also purchased in 1898 and whose provenance was a private collection from Ghent. Studies of the Head of Abraham Grapheus by Jacob Jordaens I comes from the estate of the painter Théodore Canneel (1899), The Flagellation of Christ by Rubens was purchased in 1910 in Berlin, just as was the Portrait of the Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674).

Certain purchases occasionally stirred up the waters. Among others, this was the case with Anthony van Dyck's Jupiter and Antiope, a work that previously had been attributed to Jordaens. The painting that was bought in 1900 in London indeed shocked a great number of members of the museum committee because of the sensuality of the female nude in the foreground. Around 1908, it was even in the plans to pull the work down from the galleries.

Fernand Scribe was not only an exceptional Chairman, he was also a collector who expanded his collection upon the needs of the museum. In this manner, in 1911 he bought the companion piece of a trompe l'oeil of Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (ca. 1630-ca. 1684) that the Friends had purchased at that very time. In 1913, after Scribe's death, the work joins the museum's collection. He bequeathed his entire collection to the museum.

Baroque sculptural art is underrepresented in the collection, but the works present are of the highest quality, such as the bozzetti by Laurent Delvaux for the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent or the Pietà that is attributed to a student of Lucas Faydherbe (Nicolaas van der Veken (1637-1709)?).

The print room is modest in scope and is primarily built up by the support of The Friends of the museum. Diverse discreet pieces were collected, for example, by the gifting of a collection of paintings and sculptures, and an important corpus of prints and drawings is gifted in 1911 by Gustave Vermeersch (1842-1911). In 1949, the museum acquires prints and drawings by the painter Jozef Horenbaut (1863-1956). Both gifts form the basis of the prints and drawings room.

In recent decades, the MSK Ghent is specialised in the art of the 19th and 20th Centuries. New acquisitions are limited to this period. The Baroque is secondary. Nevertheless, the museum remains vigilant and on the lookout to supplement the lacunae.

Bruno Fornari

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