Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is renowned for its stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and exceptional museums. The city is a hub for art and history lovers, offering an array of museums that showcase the best of Belgian and international art and culture. From fine art to science and history to comics, the museums in Brussels cater to diverse interests and preferences. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most fascinating museums in Brussels and what makes them worth visiting.
Brussels City Museum
The Maison du Roi, also known as Broodhuis, is a neo-Gothic building that houses a museum in Brussels. The building has a rich history and is named after the Dukes of Brabant, its owners. The museum was created in 1887 to make the city’s history more accessible to the locals and foreign visitors. The museum is hosting an exhibition titled “Over to women artists,” highlighting the works of women creators who have marked history and left their indelible mark on the artistic production of their eras. One of the museum’s masterpieces, Minerva or Liberty, represents an allegory of freedom and is a fine example of Art Nouveau and symbolism, the two major artistic movements in Brussels and abroad at the turn of the 20th century. The Brussels City Museum is also showcasing “Back to Nature,” highlighting the Art Nouveau heritage in the city’s collections. The show features various items, including embroidery, painting, fashion, and architecture. The exhibition explores how artists drew inspiration from nature at the start of the 20th century and how the beauty of plants, flowers, and women influenced their work. The exhibition presents a selection of rarely exhibited works and promises an enchanting experience.
Van Buuren Museum
The Van Buuren Museum in Brussels, Belgium, is a museum that is located in the actual house where David and Alice Van Buuren lived. David Van Buuren, a Dutch financier who moved to Brussels in 1909, and his Belgian wife Alice Piette were both devoted to culture and supported the arts. The couple built their Art Deco villa between 1924 and 1928, with plans drawn up by David and his nephew Johan Franco and constructed by architects Léon Govaerts and Alexis Van Vaerenbergh. The museum was created in 1970 when Alice left the house, with works of art and gardens to their private foundation. David was an enthusiast of the “total art” concept of the Amsterdam School, a style of architecture and decorative arts that combined Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The museum features a Dutch villa-style house with asymmetrical facades, pointed gables, sloping roofs, and red hollow-pointed hand-made bricks arranged in subtle interplays of lines. The original plans for the house included a smaller hall and stairwell. Still, David Van Buuren eliminated the planned guest room on the first floor to enlarge the gallery after purchasing a bronze and glass paste chandelier by Jan Eisenloeffel in 1925. The hall showcases George Minne’s “The Kneeling Youth” sculpture and a burr walnut long-case clock from the 17th century. The studio in the house features furniture, paintings, and objects from the 17th century to the present day, creating an eclectic atmosphere far removed from the Art Deco style of the rest of the house. The garden is a magnificent example of the New Picturesque Garden artistic style.
Belgian Comic Strip Center
The Belgian Comic Strip Center (BCSC) is in a historic Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta in 1906 in the heart of Brussels. The museum showcases European comics from their prestigious beginnings to their latest developments and attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. The BCSC is also a cultural ambassador for Belgium, with a unique documentation center and a dynamic and exciting place promoting the Ninth Art. With over 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than any other country. The BCSC celebrates this unique art form in an impressive setting that marries the styles of Art Nouveau and comics. The Waucquez Warehouse was built in the early 20 century as a warehouse for textile baron Charles Waucquez during the rise of modern comic strips. In 1975, architect Jean Delhaye, a student of Victor Horta, raised concerns about the building’s preservation, leading to it being listed as a historical monument. In 1983, the Belgian government purchased the building to dedicate it to promoting comic strips. The Belgian Comic Strip Center was founded as a non-profit organization in 1984 to foster comic strips and preserve an architectural masterpiece. The project was launched in 1986 in the presence of the entire Belgian comic strip community, despite the building still being in a state of ruin at the time.
The Horta Museum is located in Saint-Gilles, Brussels, that showcases the works of Belgian architect Victor Horta. Built between 1898 and 1901, the two buildings that make up the museum are examples of Art Nouveau’s peak, featuring plant curves and light throughout the interior. The museum contains preserved mosaics, stained glass, and wall decorations designed by Horta himself. The Horta Museum also organizes temporary exhibitions and houses Horta’s archives and a reference library on Art Nouveau. This style of architecture had aesthetic and moral goals to enhance the daily life environment. The competition for furnishing workers’ homes during the Liège Exhibition in 1905 reflected the desire to provide workers with homes that were worth returning to. Art Nouveau was seen as an antidote to the temptations of the ‘bar.’ Jules Destrée commented on the interior of Serrurier-Bovy, evoking an “impression of freshness, of health, joy, and energy.” The Maison du Peuple, built by Horta ten years earlier, had a similar philanthropic goal of creating a light-filled space for people living in the slums. The Workers’ Party was chosen to deter the conservative middle classes, seeking a style that would align with their values. Victor Horta was initially interested in music but was expelled from the Conservatory at twelve. He then pursued architecture and won his first medal at fifteen. After working in Paris and apprenticing under architect Balat, Horta designed his first houses in 1885. His Hotel Tassel design in 1893 was the first to showcase his unique style that would be widely used throughout Europe until the onset of World War I. He went on to design several other notable buildings, including Solvay House, Maison du People, and his house, now the Horta Museum. Horta was highly acclaimed in his career and was granted the title of baron in 1932.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
The Museums of Brussels have a rich history that began over two centuries ago with the French occupation of Belgium, during which artworks were seized and transferred to the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Musée de l’École centrale was established in 1798, bringing together nationalized works in the palace of Charles of Lorraine. In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte signed a decree creating 15 département museums, including one in Brussels. The Brussels Museum opened in 1803 and was owned by the City of Brussels from 1811. Over the years, the collections have grown, and the museum’s appearance has changed to accommodate changing trends in museology. The Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels houses a remarkable collection of Old Masters dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries, with masterpieces by artists such as Rogier van der Weyden, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, and Jacques Jordaens. It was enriched in 1913 by the de Grez donation of more than 4,000 works on paper. Most of the collection comprises paintings from the former Southern Netherlands, and the museum also preserves the archives and reference library of the Belgian Royal Museums of Fine Arts.
We encourage you to visit these places. The cultural sector needs you!
All the museums and their opening hours can be found here: https://www.brusselsmuseums.be/en/
Photos & text: Laurent Glorieux