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Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp

The building of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts at Leopold De Waelplaats in Antwerp was festively inaugurated in 1890. Two architects had collaborated on the project: Jan Jacob Winders’ monumental plan for the entrance hall was combined with Frans Van Dijk’s floor plan. In keeping with the European neoclassic thinking of the time, it was a temple for art.

The Royal Museum’s collection dates back to 1382, the year in which the artists of Antwerp united in the Sint-Lucasguilde (Saint Luke’s Guild). In 1773, the important works of art that this association had preserved came into the hands of the Academy of Fine Arts, which had been founded ten years earlier. In 1794 and 1796, the French occupying forces stole many major artworks from Antwerp’s churches, monasteries and public buildings and carted them off to France. When they were given back to Antwerp in 1815, they ended up in the academy’s collection. This served as the foundation of the Royal Museum’s extensive Rubens collection. The knight Florent van Ertborn bequeathed his collection of Flemish Primitives and contemporaries to the museum in 1840. A society established in 1864 to augment the collection, known as ‘De Maatschappij ter aanvulling van het Museum van Antwerpen’, and a friends of modern art society founded in 1926, ‘De Vrienden van de Moderne Kunst’, also purchased contemporary works for the museum.

In 1974, Baron Ludo van Bogaert-Sheid donated 58 works by Rik Wouters. They were exhibited in the autumn of 1989, after the donor’s death, when the works were transferred to the museum. Early 1989 marked the end of two exhibitions: one on masterpieces of iconic art, Golden Light, and the other a large retrospective on Henri De Braekeleer. On the 250th anniversary of his birth, Andries Cornelis Lens (1739-1822) was given his first exhibition in the Royal Museum. A large retrospective was also devoted to Floris Jespers (1889-1965), to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. [Els Desmedt]