Pieter Bruegel the Elder is the focus of an international celebration in 2019. Antwerp is where Bruegel learned his trade and where he worked for over ten years. He remained a presence in the city even after his death, thanks to his sons, Pieter the Younger and Jan. And when Bruegel’s name had faded from memory, it was the Antwerp collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh who rekindled interest in his work. Fritz rediscovered the painting Dulle Griet (‘Mad Meg’) and it was thanks to his enthusiasm that Bruegel has now been studied and coveted for over 100 years.
Focusing on the acquisitions of collectors Florent van Ertborn (1784–1840) and Fritz Mayer van den Bergh (1858–1901), the exhibition combines Bruegel’s recently restored Mad Meg with one of the highlights of the currently closed Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp: Jean Fouqet’s Madonna.
Jan van Eyck’s little panel with the Madonna at the Fountain was added to the exhibition in June 2020. The painting – a masterpiece from the same city’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts (KMSKA) – is exceptional in several respects. It still has its original frame, for instance, which Jan van Eyck inscribed with his famous, authentic motto ALS IXH XAN (‘as I can’ or ‘to the best of my ability’), his name and the year of execution. Van Eyck’s Antwerp Madonna featured this spring in the major international exhibition of the artist’s work at the Museum of Fine Art (MSKG) in Ghent before it was abruptly forced to close its doors in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.