10 iconic Masters to see at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium before you die

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

1. Pieter I Bruegel (the Elder), The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Musée OldMasters Museum, salle/zaal 68 (Bruegel)

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

2. Jacques Jordaens, The King Drinks

Musée OldMasters Museum, salle/zaal 66 (Jordaens)

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

3. Peter Paul Rubens, Four Studies of the Head of a Moor

Musée OldMasters Museum, salle/zaal 60

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

4. Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat

Musée OldMasters Museum, salle/zaal 55

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)

5. Jan Fabre, The Gaze Within (The Hour Blue)

Musée Modern Museum, Gresham / Koninklijke trap, escalier royal

“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

6. Paul Delvaux, Pygmalion

Musée Modern Museum, patio level 0

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

7. Marcel Broodthaers, Red Mussels in a Cooking Pot

Musée Modern Museum, patio level 1

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

22-Magritte-6715-H - copie

Musée Magritte Museum, level 1 (The enchanted domain)

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

9. James Ensor, Strange Masks

Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, level -6 (Ensor)

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.

17-extra-Picture Ensor in bearskin

10. Léon Spilliaert, The Bather

10. Léon Spilliaert, The Bather

Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, level -8 (Spilliaert / Minne)

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
rue de la Régence, 3 – 1000 Bruxelles
Musée Magritte Museum
place Royale, 1 – 1000 Bruxelles
fine-arts-museum.be
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