Three major museums in Flanders – the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Groeninge Museum Bruges and the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, are pooling their resources in an internet presentation of their joint holdings. The website of the Flemish Art Collection contains a wealth of material and is being augmented constantly. For the public launching, priority was given to work on paper, which is seldom shown in public.
The Flemish Art Collection is a partnership, subsidised by the Flemish government, aimed at giving the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Groeninge Museum Bruges and the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent more publicity across the borders. Together these three museums house a collection of approximately 6,750 paintings, 40,000 drawings and 2,000 sculptures, including worldwide renowned works by van Eyck, Bosch, Rubens, Van Dyck, Ensor, Permeke and Wouters. Over the past few years the museums have been digitalising this valuable collection. Today, an online catalogue of the Flemish Art Collection features some 6,500 works of art. Many of them are preserved in the museums’ storerooms.
Some of the new aspects of this catalogue are that it is now also available in English and that certain sub-collections have been placed into a broader context by clarifying web publications. The Flemish Minister of Culture, Bert Anciaux, hopes that the Flemish Art Collection website – www.vlaamsekunstcollectie.be – will significantly contribute to the accessibility of the Flemish art heritage.
Visitors are invited to take a glance at the museums’ treasure troves
Over the past year the three museums of fine arts have made great efforts to reveal the print and drawing collection. Due to their fragility and photosensitivity, works on paper seldom leave the storerooms and so they remain invisible to the general public. Now the online catalogue of the Flemish Art Collection makes it possible to explore the print cabinets of the three museums. The drawings and prints provide insight into the artistic process, the development of the artists’ compositions and their own vocabularies, the divulgation of their works, and their influence on other artists both in their own country and abroad. On the website of the Flemish Art Collection you can leaf through the sketchbooks of the sculptor George Minne (Ghent 1866–Sint-Martens-Latem 1941). Minne’s sketchbooks and separate study sheets allow us to follow the sculptor’s ways of thinking and working. He mainly elaborated his ideas for sculptures on paper. Only a few, exceptional studies in clay have been preserved. Minne also made independent drawings and book illustrations, considered as some of the highlights of Belgian book design.
Also the graphic works of James Ensor (Oostende 1860-Oostende 1949) are part of the best and most original objects modern printing art has produced. It is little known that the three museums of the Flemish Art Collection have the largest and most important collection worldwide of paintings, drawings and prints by Ensor. In the coming years this impressive Ensor collection will gradually become more accessible and explained using thematic web publications. At the moment you can already explore more than 200 prints and a selection of drawings online.
Another beautiful collection, which is shown online, is the collection of Neo-Classicist drawings of Joseph Benoit Suvée (Bruges 1743 – 1807 Rome) and some of his Bruges contemporaries. In no other period of art history have drawings played such an important role in the study and preparation of artworks as in Neo-classicism, both as part of the artists’ training as in their actual work. This explains why so many drawings were preserved from this period.
Furthermore the Flemish Art Collection is finishing the digitalisation of the graphic works of Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577–Antwerp 1640): altogether 665 engravings, etchings and woodcuts, sometimes corrected with pen and pencil by Rubens himself.
With its online catalogue the Flemish Art Collection not only reveals the treasures at the three museums, but also provides lots of information about them, telling the visitors the stories behind the works of art. Therefore it has not only developed an online collection catalogue, but also a series of web publications (cf. ‘Collection’ / ‘Themes’ on www.flemishartcollection.be) with lots of information about the context, significance and intention of the works. One of the series focuses on some of the collection’s most important works, including Jan van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon Van der Paele (Groeninge Museum Bruges), Peter Paul Ruben’s Adoration of the Magi (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp) and Théo Van Rysselberghe’s The Lecture (Museum of Fine Arts Ghent). These works belong to the collective visual memory, but until now there was no professional, well-researched information on them available on internet. The museums of the Flemish Art Collection consider it their task to change this situation.
The website features English language versions of both the catalogue and the web publications. This way the Flemish Art Collections want to promote the international reputation of the three museum collections and to give wider publicity to the current historical research activities that are taking place at the museums. Although nothing compares to face-to-face contact with the real work of art, these online presentations stimulate art lovers to see the museum collections from a different perspective, discovering new things and learning about something new.
The Flemish Minister of Culture, Bert Anciaux, said: “I hope that this new initiative of promoting the Flemish Art Collection will enhance the general public’s conscience of our heritage policy and particularly our policy regarding major works of art.”
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