Leon De Smet, Louise, 1916, MSK Gent

This year the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent (MSK) is taking a deep dive into its own collection to offer fresh perspectives on 600 years of art. For the first time since 2017, the entire museum building is once again the backdrop to the collection. The revised presentation fills no fewer than 40 galleries and displays the full diversity of the museum collection, exploring new themes and exhibiting dozens of works that have never been shown before, all arranged along a route that is guaranteed to excite and surprise.

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Art in all its forms
The MSK is not just a home to paintings from the 14th to 20th centuries. Certainly, our collection includes international favourites such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Paul Rubens, Antoon van Dijk, James Ensor, Emile Claus, Auguste Rodin, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux and many others. But plenty of other riches also emerge from behind the scenes.

The museum’s collection holds important examples of 19th and 20th-century sculpture, an impressive collection of works on paper, a library of precious publications, and unusual items ranging from medals to sketches and studio materials. Thanks to a revision of their presentation this spring, this diversity of objects is finally able to speak for itself.

Religious objects supplement the collection of medieval art, and design sketches and material studies reveal the creative processes and the hand of the painter or sculptor at work. Some paintings are displayed in a free-standing arrangement that uniquely enables them to be examined from both sides. One of these, a beautiful work by Jacob de Backer, is on show for the first time in over 10 years. In the long galleries we juxtapose progressive and conservative artists, and elsewhere art magazines bring the modern 1920s to life.

© Martin Corlazzoli
© Martin Corlazzoli

New themes and stories
The chronological route is interrupted at regular intervals by new themed galleries that invite visitors to deeper reflection. For instance, we look at images of women through 250 years of art, at portrayals of poverty and wealth, the relationship between the city and the countryside, and how artists create portraits to record themselves and their loved ones for posterity.

The lives of everyday people serve as the uniting element of the themed galleries. In this way the museum illustrates how every work of art contains many stories: those of the artist who conceived the work and the society in which it was created – but also the stories that appear to each individual who looks at it. The questions that people address through art are more or less the same today as they have always been. And as we consider what artists have created, we cannot help but layer our own stories upon theirs.

New combinations in the galleries
Countless new combinations reveal the Ghent collections in a fresh light. With the northern and southern Netherlands no longer separated, both their distinctness and their interaction are highlighted. Plenty of attention is also given to the process of creating art, the correlation between the artist and the studio and the close ties that have always existed between artists and the art market.

In the print and drawing galleries we investigate the interaction between drawings, prints and other media in the careers of artists such as James Ensor, Odilon Redon and Félicien Rops. The monograph galleries present important artists including Jean Brusselmans, Raoul De Keyser, Constant Permeke and Frans Masereel, who are well deserving of the extra space, alongside prominent names such as George Minne and Théo Van Rysselberghe.

As in previous exhibitions of the collection, we have made grateful use of the close ties between the MSK and private collectors and partner institutes, which enable us to display works lent to us by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Municipal Museums of Bruges, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of Art and History in Brussels, the Design Museum, the STAM, the GUM-Ghent University Museum and the University Library of Ghent, the Municipal Museums in Kortrijk and the Phoebus Foundation.

Gallery E: a new space for visitor experimentation
Visitors are also given their very own space in the museum – literally. Situated in the middle of the route, ‘Gallery E’ is a stage for expression, emotion, education and experimentation. Visitors can unleash their creative impulses, taking part in open studio events, lectures and conversations. Gallery E is also the setting for a series of rotating presentations and innovative collaborations, an arena for voices originating from inside and outside the museum.