The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent has a collection of about 400 medals. Most this unique ensemble was purchased at the “Salon de la Médaille” of the world fairs in Brussels (1910) and Ghent (1913). The Ghent collection paints an accurate picture of (inter)national medal art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Medals as artistic expression
Until the nineteenth century, medals were primarily designed as awards or to commemorate important events. From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, this art form radically changed with medals, increasingly, becoming freer expressions of artistic creation. The emergence of the reducing machine offered artists, more specifically sculptors, the opportunity to reduce their design to the size of a medal.
They approached medals as a miniature bas-relief, working with a much higher relief than the early seal cutters. They also used a wide range of patinas, creating various special colours and effects. Artists also increasingly abandoned the traditional rounded shape of medals. This innovative medal art was internationally promoted and disseminated. Numismatic societies organised engraving competitions for young artists, published works about medals and organised major international salons.