François-Joseph Navez (1787-1869)
Self portrait, 1854
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
On the weekend of 26-28 May 2007 the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (MSK Gent) will be open to all for free, in celebration of the reopening after a four-year renovation of the building.
On 26 May 2007 the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts will be reopened, after a thorough renovation. To celebrate this event, the Flemish Art Collection will exhibit a selection of portraits from the three partner museums: the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the Groeninge Museum in Bruges and the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts. A select club of mainly Belgian artists, both well-known and lesser known, will welcome visitors into the central room of the renovated museum with paintings, sculptures and drawings from the late 18th to the middle of the 20th century. It will include some hundred self-portraits and other portraits that the artists have made of each other. Imagine a more appropriate theme for the reopening of a museum of fine arts… What would an historical art museum be without the artists?
The exhibition shows a selection from the rich collections of the Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent museums. They illustrate several aspects of this popular genre. The earliest portraits date from the 18th and early 19th century. They represent glorious students, teachers and directors of the Antwerp and Bruges academies. The works of these artists – including among others Joseph-Benoît Suvée and Andries Lens – were sometimes theatrical creations, sometimes highly accurate psychological profiles. Visitors get the opportunity to see a selection of paintings and busts by prominent Belgian neo-classicists, French pompiers and German Nazarenes. They are part of the international portrait gallery, started by the Antwerp academy in 1852. The Bruges Groeninge Museum has lent its most beautiful pastels and precious miniature portraits. These true-to-life, pocked-sized paintings might well be considered as the precursors of photography!
The large number of self-portraits and friendship portraits from the period 1850-1940 show how popular this genre was. Some of the most remarkable paintings are the young self-portraits by Edmond Van Hove, Theo Van Rysselberghe and Rik Wouters. The artists also liked to express their friendship with paintings, statues and drawings. The typical friendship portraits of the Paul De Vigne by Liévin De Winne, Auguste Rodin and Xavier Mellery clearly show how much this sculptor from Ghent was appreciated by his fellow-artists. James Ensor created a pleasant atmosphere in his portraits of friends like Henry De Groux, Willy Finch and Theo Hannon.
In that time the artist’s studio was another popular subject. Willem Linnig II and Henri De Braekeleer immortalised their fathers at work in their studios. The women in the paintings were usually models, e.g. in Jan Stobbaerts of Edgard Tytgat’s works. To these painters the studio was an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
But the exhibition also shows us surprising aspects of some well-known artists. This is the case of Alfred Stevens, for example, known in the first place as a portrait painter of the Paris beau monde, but who reveals himself as a very sensitive artist in an unconstrained portrait of a woman painter.
Creations on paper get a separate place in the exhibition. This room is dominated by James Ensor, whose remarkable drawings and etchings are sometimes full of self-mockery, sometimes emotive and tormented. Two penetrating self-portraits by Léon Spilliaert and a few illustrations by Edgard Tytgat and Frans Masereel complete this part of the exhibition.