We delve into the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium’s 100 Masters archive, handpicking 10 essentials for you to see before the lights go out. From Bruegel’s meticulous 16th century masterpieces to Broodthaers’ idiosyncratic 1960s installations, the selection highlights the collection’s broad strokes.
Make sure not to miss the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium’s latest exhibition starting next week, Modernity à la belge.
1. Pieter I Bruegel (the Elder), The Fall of the Rebel Angels
Pieter Bruegel uses this chaotic mob to illustrate discoveries made during his time: Indian feathers (from America), a sundial and numerous species of fish and birds.
2. Jacques Jordaens, The King Drinks
The reason for the revelry is the Epiphany feast, where the person who finds the bean in the cake is crowned king.
3. Peter Paul Rubens, Four Studies of the Head of a Moor
This study of an African man who often appears in Rubens’ large altar pieces, such as the “Adoration of the Magi” located in the Rubens room, served as an example for Rubens’ studio assistants when executing his many designs.
4. Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat
On 13 July 1793, the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat was murdered by Charlotte Corday in Paris. This act of political revenge was immortalised by Jacques-Louis David in this martyr portrait.
5. Jan Fabre, The Gaze Within (The Hour Blue)
“The Gaze Within” is a permanent installation commissioned by the Museum, made by Fabre in 2009 and installed in this staircase, still preserved in its original state, that was originally reserved for use by the royal family.
6. Paul Delvaux, Pygmalion
The title refers to the myth of the Greek sculptor Pygmalion and his quest for the ideal woman which Delvaux turns upside down, casting himself as the marble statue and thus, the naked beauty.
7. Marcel Broodthaers, Red Mussels in a Cooking Pot
This pan of mussels, or moules in French, becomes artwork because it is presented as one and moulded as such: it is situated in a museum, on a pedestal, under Plexiglas, accompanied by a nameplate.
8. René Magritte, The Dominion of Light
Two autonomous worlds co-exist next to each other. Both, however, are reigned by light. Magritte contrasts the abundant sunlight – which leaves nothing to the imagination – with the confined lantern light which leaves room for the suggestive and the invisible. In almost all of his compositions, the iconic artist looked for ways to make the familiar attractive and mysterious again.
9. James Ensor, Strange Masks
Six disguised and masked characters strike a pose for a group portrait, their dark shoes in stark contrast with their colourful costumes. Accompanying the piece, in a picture taken around 1891, we see Ensor wearing a bearskin hat. By the end of the 19th century and growing increasingly disconnected from bourgeois society, this persona will become the sensitive artist’s alter ego.
10. Léon Spilliaert, The Bather
Spilliaert distils this ordinary scene into an almost abstract play of shapes, eliminating the anecdotal and making this image iconic.Musée Oldmasters Museum, Musée Modern Museum, Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum
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