Five museums to dive into when it rains. Brussels has more than 100 museums with collections ranging from old trams to plastic objects. Some get thousands of visitors a day.
The city’s museum council has the task of promoting the museums through talks, night openings and workshops. This summer, the organisation has put together a creative campaign called 100 Masters aimed at highlighting some of the most intriguing and unexpected works in its collections.
The council started out by drawing up a longlist of 500 works located in 108 museums across the capital. A panel of experts then met to select the 100 most interesting items, drawn from 41 museums. They came up with some well-known works, such as Pieter Bruegel’s Fall of the Rebel Angels and Jacques Louis David’s Death of Marat. But they also dug out some obscure pieces, including a pair of painted shoes and a sample of moon rock.
If you decide to spend some time following up their 100 tips, you’ll encounter a fascinating range of objects, including letters written by the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine during their stay in Brussels, a Merovingian drinking horn, and a statue of a king from the Kasai region of the Congo.
The 100 Masters campaign includes a powerful interactive element, so art lovers can share images on Facebook and Instagram, as well as voting for their favourite work. Also on the programme are several original concepts, like apéro tours, family trails and speed dating on 13 August at the Comics Art Museum.
A special Brussels Card has been launched for the 100 Masters season which allows you to visit 10 different museums over a three-month period. It is sold at tourist offices on Grand’Place and Place Royale, as well as online at the visit.brussels website. During this summer, receive 48 hours of free public transport when you buy a Brussels Card.
Here are five museums with works from the 100 Masters programme that are well worth a visit over the summer.
The industrial museum La Fonderie takes you back to a time when the Molenbeek district of Brussels was one of the world’s main workshops. Most of the factories have disappeared but the former bronze foundry La Fonderie has survived as a museum, with stray cats wandering in the grounds among old machine parts.
For 100 Masters, the museum is highlighting an impressive plaster model of a lion cast in Molenbeek by the Compagnie des Bronzes. Dating from the 1930s, the lion stands at the entrance of the Bronx zoo in New York City. Not many people know that it originated in Brussels.
Rue Ransfort 27, Molenbeek
Rene Magritte Museum
This is not the Magritte Museum. It is the house in Jette commune where René Magritte and his wife Georgette lived from 1930 to 1957. The Belgian surrealist created some of the most startling images in modern art in the kitchen of this modest home, which was bought by two art enthusiasts and restored to its original state.
Unlike the Magritte Museum on Place Royale, the René Magritte Museum doesn’t own any paintings by the surrealist artist, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. You can wander through the rooms where he painted some of his most memorable works, and see the spot in the kitchen where he worked at his easel.
The 100 Masters season has picked out a handwritten book of thoughts written by Magritte in about 1954. Displayed in his former apartment, it dates from the period when he was working on his famous painting of a pipe titled This is not a pipe. The book includes a report of a strange dream Magritte had while living in the apartment at 35 Rue Esseghem. It may help you to understand the strange paintings he produced in his modest suburban apartment.
Rue Esseghem 35, Jette
Designed by the comic artist François Schuiten, Train World is a spectacular new museum located in a handsome Brussels railway station. The romance of rail travel is evoked by a reconstructed booking hall, an attic full of equipment and several magnificent steam trains.
You can also see a railway carriage interior designed by the architect Henry van de Velde, a reconstructed railway worker’s house, and even a railway bridge.
A stunning 1939 Atlantic steam train features on the 100 Masters list, along with a royal carriage used by King Leopold II and the oldest surviving train in mainland Europe.
Place Princesse Elisabeth 5, Schaerbeek
The list of 100 Masters includes Théo van Rysselberge’s 1903 painting ‘Tea in the Garden’. It is found in the Ixelles Museum along with other Belgian paintings and sculptures from the fin-de-siècle. The three women in Van Rysselberge’s work were quite famous in their day. One was a poet and another was a singer, while the third woman sitting at the table was the artist’s wife Maria.
The Ixelles Museum is located in a former slaughterhouse in a quiet residential district. It contains many works by artists who worked in Ixelles, as well as paintings by French Impressionists and a huge collection of posters.
Rue Jean van Volsem, Ixelles
Fin de Siecle Museum
A painting by the Belgian symbolist Fernand Khnopff is one of five works in the Fin de Siècle Museum selected for the 100 Masters season. His painting Memories (Lawn Tennis) shows seven women playing tennis. But if you look more closely you will see that the portraits all show the same woman. Her name was Marguerite and she was his sister.
Opened in 2013, the Fin de Siècle Museum presents art and sculpture from the turn of the 19th century. At that time, Belgium was a hothouse of talented artists, architects and writers.
The 100 Masters collection also features paintings by James Ensor, Léon Spilliaert and Georges Seurat, as well as a bronze sculpture by Alfons Mucha.
Rue de la Régence 3, Central Brussels
By Derek Blyth
The Brussels Times