Museum Muse: Tom Liekens
Which works of art from the KMSKA collection inspire artists today? And why?
How do you assemble an art collection that embraces seven centuries? And how did the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA), come to be founded? Take a walk with us in the museum’s history, from one milestone to another.
The painters of 14th-century Antwerp join together in a corporation: the Guild of St Luke. The guild has its own building for meetings and events, which they decorate with their own works. In 1614, for instance, Rubens donates The Holy Family with a Parrot.
The painter David Teniers the Younger founds an Academy under the guild’s auspices. The guild itself is wound up in 1773 and its art collection is transferred to the Academy. By now, it not only includes masterpieces by Rubens, but also works by Abraham Grapheus, Jacob Jordaens and Cornelius de Vos.
The revolutionary French occupier strips Antwerp bare. A huge amount of art from the Academy, churches and museums is carried off to Paris. The Flemish masters make their way home again after the Battle of Waterloo. 26 paintings – mostly works by Rubens – are placed in the Academy’s museum.
The region’s new Dutch rulers prove more generous than their French predecessors. King William I donates a work by Titian and one by David Teniers the Younger to the Academy. The collection receives a major boost in 1840, when Chevalier Florent van Ertborn, a former mayor of Antwerp, bequeaths artistic gems by the likes of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Jean Fouquet to the museum.
The Academy founds an ‘Academic Corps’. The prominent artists who join have to donate both a work of art and a portrait. The collection of 19th-century art grows strongly as a result. Societies of art lovers, further bequests and salon purchases add further to the museum collection.
The City Council plans a new district in Antwerp, with docks, a station, churches and also a new museum. It is sorely needed: the Academy’s museum has become too small for the growing collection.
Building work begins on the museum. It is no easy task for the architects Jan Jacob Winders and Frans Van Dijk. The galleries have to be fireproof and well lit. Restoration workshops are also needed, along with a conference room, secure cellars, modern heating and stores. The result is an architectural tour de force.
Construction takes seven years. The museum proudly opens its doors on 11 August 1890. The building comprises a blend of architectural styles: from classical to Flemish Renaissance.
Under the impetus of Antwerp’s Franck family and the ‘Art of Today’ and ‘Friends of Modern Art’ societies, the museum assembles a significant collection of contemporary art: both Belgian Impressionism and Flemish Expressionism. It includes numerous works by James Ensor, but also Chagall and Schmalzigaug.
In 1974, Baron Ludo van Bogaert and his wife Marie-Louise Sheid donate their substantial collection of works by Rik Wouters to the KMSKA: 13 paintings, 8 sculptures and 36 drawings and watercolours. In addition to the world’s most important Ensor collection, the museum now boasts the biggest Wouters collection.
The most recent renovation begins in the autumn of 2011. The historic shell is given a modern core, which will do even greater justice to both the historical and modern collections.