Armand Heins, Arbeiders op het veld, 1882

This summer, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK) will make the most out of its rich collection of drawings. The central theme of the exhibition ‘On paper’ is the City of Ghent and the artists who lived, passed through or settled here. For each of them, the artistic context of local life in Ghent was a limitless source of inspiration.

These rarely seen gems in black and white and in colour, drawn by both renowned and unjustifiably forgotten artists, will be brought out of storage by the museum. The exhibition will also serve as the launching pad for a series of presentations from the MSK collection, which will allow some rare treasures from the museum’s print room to see the light of day.

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Baroque on paper
‘On paper’ is an illustration of 400 years of drawing. Concurrently with the exhibition focusing on Gaspar de Crayer (1584-1669) elsewhere in the museum, the exhibition starts with a series of rarely shown studies by this Baroque artist. It will also display a series of works directly related to his altarpieces, which can still be seen in public collections in Ghent today.

In connection with this, the museum will bring to light the little known illustrative oeuvre of Jan III van Cleve (1646-1716), an artist of Dutch origin who was influenced by De Crayer in Ghent. Van Cleves’ unfaltering interest in his work also meant that Baroque art endured in Ghent until the beginning of the 18th century.

Jan van Cleve III (1646-1716), The Four Seasons
Jan van Cleve III (1646-1716), The Four Seasons

Ghent’s artists and residents during the 19th century
A leap forward into time then takes visitors to the 18th and early-19th centuries, when Ghent artists such as Joseph Paelinck (1781-1839) and Josse-Sébastien Van den Abeele (1797-1855) played a prominent role in developing Neoclassicism.

As was the case with many other artists of the time, a trip to Italy was an unmissable part of their training. The museum owns a variety of drawings showing depictions of their sojourns in Rome and the Roman Campagna. Work by prominent representatives of neo-Gothicism around the mid-19th century, with artists such as Théodore-Joseph Canneel (1817-1892) and Théophile Lybaert (1848-1927) add to this collection.

After 1850, different tendencies towards realism developed in drawing. In the MSK’s collection, this ranges from the extreme pursuit of verisimilitude of Gustave Vanaise (1854-1902) and Eugène Dopchie (1873-1948), through the social realism of Jules Van Biesbroeck (1873-1965) to the magnificent and yet unknown sfumato self-portraits by Félix Metdepenninghen (1867-1937). Subsequently, a significant generation of Ghent artists from around 1900 including Albert Baertsoen (1866-1922), Jean Delvin (1853-1922) and Emile Claus (1849-1924) come into the picture.

Ghent’s 20th century artists
The period between 1885 and 1940 is characterised by several consecutive generations of Ghent artists with completely varying personalities. The exhibition will dedicate each their own separate space.

One room shows drawings by sculptor George Minne (1866-1941), who attached a lot of importance to the medium of drawing throughout his career. ‘On paper’ shows the evolution from his symbolic work ca. 1890 to his spiritual drawings around 1910-1920.

Jules De Bruycker, Figures in a waiting room, ca. 1904
Jules De Bruycker, Figures in a waiting room, ca. 1904

Jules De Bruycker (1870-1945) represents almost the polar opposite of the introverted Minne. He situated his less-privileged characters in overcrowded markets and street scenes to give us a flavour of everyday life in the impoverished city after 1900. After a leave of absence from the museum’s public spaces, the MSK is resurrecting the work of this beloved Ghent resident again.

The work on paper by Jos Verdegem (1897-1957) transports visitors to the Interwar period. This rebellious and multi-faceted artists’ pieces are immediately recognisable by their powerful and moving depictions of the universal human condition.

In synergy with Verdegem’s work, the museum will zoom in on artists from Ghent such as Gustave De Smet (1877-1943), Frits Van den Berghe (1883-1939) and Jozef Cantré (1890-1957), who all brought their own personal touch to expressionism.