New museums entice art lovers to Belgium

BRUSSELS, Belgium — When not attending the 2010 edition of the Brussels Antiques & Fine Arts Fair in January, a group of American writers, designers and style bloggers also had the chance to visit some of the country’s museums, both long established and brand-spanking new. Here are two of the latter.

Rene Magritte Museum, 1 Place Royale, Brussels

Part of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Magritte opened in June of 2009 and still has that new-museum smell … Well, not really, but it was amazing to see the finished facility after having the opportunity to see it under construction a year ago.

The museum is a rich archive of not only Magritte’s singular paintings, but also drawings, gouaches, posters, advertising work, letters, photographs, sculptures, films and other documents.

Magritte once said: “I love subversive humor, freckles, knees, the long hair of women, the dreams of young children at liberty, a young girl running in the street.”

It was initially startling to see these young children at liberty — as young as 4 or 5 — in the museum, sitting in a circle in front of some of the artist’s most famous works: Natural Encounters from 1945, showing two figures or statues with bottle-like heads, draped in brown robes, one holding a leaf, in a room with two windows, one of which is tilted at an odd angle. Or The Companions of Fear, 1942, which shows a group of owls seemingly growing out of shrubs in a mountainous landscape.

How, one wonders, do you explain these paintings to such young children? Then I realized that it’s Magritte’s playfulness and curiosity that have appealed to viewers for decades, qualities that don’t need deep contemplation or convoluted explanations. Magritte was also a child at heart, and if a tree had a nose, or a mountain floated in the sky, he saw no need to offer further analysis.

For more information, visit

Security at the Musee Magritte Museum was tight. All bags were measured for size, and those deemed too large had to be left in a coat-check room. The reason was simple. On Sept. 24, 2009, a painting by Magritte was stolen from another Brussels museum in a daylight raid by two armed men.

The 1948 painting, Olympia, a nude portrait of the artist’s wife, Georgette, reclining with a shell balanced on her stomach, is valued at more than $4 million. It was hanging in Magritte’s former terrace house, which is open as a museum by appointment only. Magritte lived in the house in the northern Brussels suburb for more than 20 years, and painted some of his most famous works there.

The museum had been open for 10 minutes when a man rang the doorbell asking if visiting hours had started. He then put a revolver to the museum attendant’s head and an accomplice went inside. The two men, who were not masked, gathered the museum staff and visitors – a couple from Japan – and made them kneel in the courtyard. No one was hurt and the pair left carrying the painting and got into a car. An alarm had sounded but by the time police arrived, the thieves, who spoke English and French, were gone. More information on the Magritte Museum is found at

The Hergé Museum

Located in Louvain-la-Neuve, a short drive from Brussels, The Hergé Museum is devoted to the work of the Belgian cartoonist/illustrator Georges Remi (1907-1983), better known as Hergé. It also opened in June 2009.

Hergé’s most famous creation is the globetrotting teenage journalist Tintin, who’s been having exciting and dangerous adventures since 1929, though he never seems to get in trouble with his editor for not filing stories.The museum is a marvelous combination of soaring spaces and intimate displays. Open walkways connect the eight permanent exhibition rooms. The design recalls scenes from the stories, where he’s often accompanied by his dog, Snowy.

While Tintin is best known in Europe and India, that’s about to change. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is a 3-D film based on the comic books scheduled for release in 2011. It will be directed by Steven Spielberg and the script is based on four Tintin stories: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Spielberg first acquired rights to Tintin after Hergé’s death in 1983.

The Hergé Museum is online at

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