For over a decade, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp – the biggest museum in Flanders, also known as KMSKA (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen) – has been closed for a major renovation. Located in a majestic neoclassical building in the Zuid district of Antwerp since 1890, the museum closed its doors in 2011, and it is due to reopen to the public this coming September.
Ahead of a visit to the museum on ACE’s Flemish Painting: From van Eyck to Rubens tour next spring, now is the perfect time to take the opportunity to explore the history, contents and reinvention of this fascinating place.
The collection was originally begun with a series of artworks owned by the Antwerp Guild of St Luke, and was later augmented with donations from William I of the Netherlands and a bequest of early Netherlandish art. It is one of the richest collections globally in painting, sculpture and drawing of the Flemish school. KMSKA features pieces by Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Anthony Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, Auguste Rodin and René Magritte, amongst many others.
The comprehensive renovation of the museum has seen paintings by many of these artists, alongside other masterpieces spanning seven centuries, rehung, and the reopening later this year will offer an opportunity for visitors to see them reunited on display for the first time in over a decade. All paintings received conservation treatment appropriate to their needs in-house at the museum’s own studio during the closure, and many were loaned to other galleries both across Belgium and internationally to be enjoyed whilst their permanent home was closed.
Meanwhile, the renovation masterplan aimed to increase the exhibition space of the museum by 40% without compromising the historical fabric and atmosphere of the 19th century building. The historical galleries, through which visitors can now take the original intended route, have been fully restored, with elegant stucco, wallpaper and parquet providing an impressive backdrop to paintings by the likes of Rubens and Van Dyck.
In addition, new galleries have been created to display artworks dating from after 1880 – around when the museum was originally built. The elegant use of light, height and shape in these new spaces creates a fitting and illuminating backdrop for works of art that are themselves often of a more experimental nature.
With 8400 works of art in the collection, the new interpretative schemes offer accessible ‘ways in’ to this remarkable museum, with shortlists of 25 and 100 highlights available for visitors who wish to understand the museum’s holdings through a selection of its signature pieces.
As well as being home to many important paintings, sculptures and installations, KMSKA is also an important research institution today for art historians. Its place in the future of art history has been admirably secured through the scope, scale and ambition of this exciting renovation.
A visit to KMSKA will feature on ACE’s tour Flemish Painting: From van Eyck to Rubens, which will run from April 18–23, 2023. Our Tour Director will be art history expert Rupert Dickens, MA, an Arts Society accredited lecturer who studied at Birkbeck, University of London and UCL. Rupert has been visiting and working in the Netherlands and Belgium since the 1980s.
Alongside KMSKA, our itinerary will also feature visits to the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent (which celebrates its 225th anniversary in 2023), the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels, and the Groeningemuseum and recently refurbished Gruthuusemuseum in Bruges.
To view the tour details, please click here.
All images courtesy of VisitFlanders.