Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium

Musées Royaux des Beaux (Royal Museum of Fine Arts) houses over 20,000 drawings, sculptures, and paintings.  It’s contains art dating from the early 15th century to the present.  The architect of the building was Alphonse Balat and funded by King Leopold II.  Balat was the king’s principle architect, and this was one part of the king’s vast building program for Belgium. The building was completed in 1887, and stands as an example of the Beaux-Arts (meaning Fine Arts) architecture use of themed statuary to assert the identity and meaning of the building. The extensive program of architectural sculpture includes the four figures of Music, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting atop the four main piers, the work of sculptors Égide Mélot, Georges Geefs, Louis Samain, and Guillaume de Groot respectively. The finial, gilded Genius of Art was also designed by de Groot. [Museum History
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I was delightfully surprised to find so many paintings and artisits I’d heard of in the museum.  The funny part was how my most favorite paintings were tucked away in dark corners of the museum and had nobody in the rooms looking at the them.
 
The Death of Marat was an oil painting created in 1793 by Jacques-Louis David, famous for images of the French Revolution.This work depicts the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat lying dead in his bath on 13 July 1793 after his murder by Charlotte Corday. Corday, who was from a minor aristocratic family, blamed Marat for the September Massacres, a wave of mob violence which overtook Paris in late summer 1792.  Corday feared an all out civil war and claimed “I killed one man to save 100,000.” [Wikipedia]
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David painted Marat as a martyr of the Revolution in a style reminiscent of a Christian martyr, with the face and body bathed in a soft, glowing light.  The us of light makes the picture look more likely a photograph than a painting.  Yet the portrait is idealistic and portrays Marat as a hero rather than a human making it in that way very unlike a photograph.  This dicotemy earns it the title of an “awful beautiufl lie” by several critics.
If you look closely the piece of paper, you can see Corday’s name written and the message reads (translation) “I am just too unhappy to deserve your kindness.”  He uses a hyperbole to depict his extreme humility. He is saying that he lives a life of misery and that because of this, anyone who pays attention to him is giving him something that he doesn’t deserve.
There are two parts to the Royal Museum.  One part is the ancient museum and the other is the contemporary museum.  The contemporary museum is one room with 15 paintings.  Among this selection was a beautiful Salvador Dali.
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Dali’s The Temptation of St. Anthony is an oil on canvas painted in 1946. In the painting, temptation appears to Saint Anthony successively in the form of a horse in the foreground representing strength, sometimes also symbol of voluptuousness, and in the form of the elephant which follows it, carrying on its back the golden cup of lust in which a nude woman is standing precariously balanced on the fragile pedestal, a figure which emphasizes the erotic character of the composition. The other elephants are carrying buildings on their backs; the first of these is a obelisk inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture base in Rome of an elephant carrying an ancient obelisk, the second and third are burdened with Venetian edifices. In the background another elephant carries a tall tower which is not without phallic overtones, and in the clouds one can glimpse a few fragments of the Escorial, symbol of temporal and spiritual order. [Dali Urvas]
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The elephant is a recurring image in Dalí’s works. It first appeared in his 1944 work Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. Dali’s elephants are portrayed “with long, multijointed, almost invisible legs of desire.” Coupled with the image of their brittle legs, these encumbrances, noted for their phallic overtones, create a sense of phantom reality. “The elephant is a distortion in space,” one analysis explains, “its spindly legs contrasting the idea of weightlessness with structure.” [Wikipedia]

This picture was painted in the studio that the artist occupied for a few days next to the Colony Restaurant in New York. It is the first and only time that he participated in a contest. It was an invitational artistic competition for a painting of the theme of the temptation of Saint Anthony, organised in 1946 by the Loew Lewin Company, a movie- producing firm. The winning picture was to figure in a film taken from the story “Bel Ami” by Maupassant. Eleven painters took part in the competition, but Dali didn’t win. [Museum Store]

The amount of details in the painting make it a joy to see in person. After studying dadaism in World History, I’ve been hooked on Dali and in his surreal depictions of humanity.  There is something so invigorating about the escape any Dali work provides.
“I am painting pictures which make me die for joy, I am creating with an absolute naturalness, without the slightest aesthetic concern, I am making things that inspire me with a profound emotion and I am trying to paint them honestly.” —Salvador Dalí, in Dawn Ades, Dalí and Surrealism.
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