Museum of Fine Arts Ghent is the oldest museum in Belgium blowing out 225 candles

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent is the oldest museum in Belgium blowing out 225 candles
Museum of Fine Arts Ghent is the oldest museum in Belgium blowing out 225 candles

The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent will celebrate its 225th anniversary in 2023. The ‘oldest museum in Belgium’ will therefore turn 225 next year and this year the Friends of the Museum are already blowing out 125 candles. The museum has about 20,000 works, of which about 600 are on permanent display. A large part of it comes from the collection of Fernand Scribbe, who donated his private collection on his death.

Through Belgium

 - 3/09/2022 at 14:00

The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1798 and opened its doors to the public in 1802. This makes it the oldest publicly accessible museum in Belgium and one of the oldest in Europe. From September, the museum will be celebrating its 225th anniversary with a full year of celebrations.

Today, the MSK preserves almost 20,000 works of European visual art (paintings, sculptures, works on paper) from the Middle Ages to today, with a special focus on (Belgian) art from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. About 600 works are on permanent display in the gallery. Over the past decades, the museum has organized leading exhibitions, housed the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece and built a versatile public offering that is praised as an example for the sector.

French conquest

The history of the museum dates back to 1798. After the French conquest of the Southern Netherlands, Ghent came under French rule. Churches and monasteries are being systematically abolished and the government is confiscating their art treasures. On September 9, 1798, the Musée du Département de l’Escaut, the oldest art museum in what later became Belgium, was officially established.

One hundred years later, in 1898, the city decides to erect a new building in which the collection can be showcased. Architect Charles Van Rysselberghe, brother of the painter Théo Van Rysselberghe, designed an ingenious building on a human scale. All rooms receive daylight, there is plenty of variety and yet the floor plan is simple and sleek. The location chosen is the Citadel Park, on the edge of the city. In 1902 the doors of the new building open for the first time on the occasion of the Salon van Gent.

In 1911, the building was expanded on the occasion of the Ghent World’s Fair of 1913. A year later, Fernand Scribe donated his private collection to the museum upon his death, including work by Pieter II Breughel, Tintoretto, Jacob Jordaens, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Contstant Permeke and Gustave. de Smet. The bequest increases the museum collection in one fell swoop with more than 220 paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Of the approximately 600 works of art permanently on display in the museum’s galleries today, about ten percent still come from Scribe’s private collection.

During the war, the building was heavily damaged and the museum was not reopened until 1921. During the Second World War, the entire museum collection moves to Pau in southern France, for fear of war damage.


In 1957 the Society for the Museum of Contemporary Art is founded. The association wants to keep its finger on the pulse of contemporary art. According to her, this is not discussed enough in the MSK. She wants to build her own collection, as a first step towards an independent Museum of Contemporary Art. It will eventually evolve into the SMAK, the municipal museum for contemporary art, with Jan Hoet as its first curator. It will have its own building directly opposite the MSK.

The article is in Dutch


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