Have you been there yet?
The new Fin-de-Siècle Museum was supposed to open May 2013, yet due to circumstances didn’t open until December. And it was already April 2014 when I got a chance to actually go to Brussels. For at least one year I had been looking forward to see the collection of this new museum but boy… it was absolutely worth my wait.
“The new Fin-de-Siècle Museum presents Brussels as the cultural crossroads of Europe at the turn of the century. This exceptional collection of works by Belgian artists such as James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff, Léon Spilliaert, Victor Horta, Henry Van de Velde or Philippe Wolfers,… and by foreign artists such as Paul Gauguin, Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, Emile Gallé, Louis Majorelle and Alphonse Mucha,… places the art scene at the heart of international creativity.”
Patiently I waited half an hour in line (what’s another half hour when you have already waited a whole year?) before I could – finally – enter the Fin-de-Siècle Museum. A museum that is in fact located inside the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, on the -5th to -8th floor.
Before you reach the -5th floor, you have to pass through the -3rd and -4th floor; both packed with paintings. And then, when you do get to the -5th floor, there are even more paintings! The purpose of those paintings is to explain the 1900’s Academic Arts scene. But to be honest, I felt some disappointment because there seemed to be only paintings.
However… at the -8th floor, it turned out they had been saving the best for last. I finally got what I came for: The Gillion Crowet Collection. Every artist who had been ‘somebody’ during the Fin-de-Siècle was there. Horta, Gallé, Daum, Muller, Mucha, Majorelle and so on… What a magnificent collection.
In the 1960’s, when nobody was interested in Art Nouveau, Anne-Marie Crowet and her husband Roland Gillion started collecting Art Nouveau objects. By buying everything they could get their hands on, keeping only the best items and selling or trading the other ones, time and again they accomplished to bring their collection to a higher level. And that collection now is one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau collections in the world.
When the couple offered to pay their inheritance taxes with the collection, the city of Brussels gladly accepted their offer. “When I started collecting in the 60’s people called me crazy” said Anne-Marie Crowet in 2006 when the collection was transferred to the City of Brussels, “and now they almost faint when they see the beauty of the collection. It is a dream come true that our collection will be on display at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium where the whole world can see how important the style of 1900 was.”
Besides the breathtaking Émile Gallé vases I was struck by the beauty of the Henri and Désiré Muller vases. The Muller brothers were trained by Émile Gallé but started their own firm in 1895 where they developed a new technique called fluogravure. The technique involved acid etching a vessel that had previously been fired with colored enamels. The fluogravure Muller vases are richly patinated, often with a semi-lustrous finish, and after years of looking at Gallé and Daum vases, I found them to be “refreshing”.
In short, the not-so-new-anymore Fin-de-Siècle Museum is absolutely worth your visit. Don’t let the seemingly endless rows of paintings discourage you on your way down to the Gillion Crowet Collection. And once you get to the -8th floor… don’t forget to inhale 😉