We walked through the Parc de Bruxelles from our hotel in order to reach the Museum of Fine Arts. It was quite cold, though bright, so we had intended to set a fairly brisk pace. Yet we slowed to look at the bronze statues that lined both sides of our path. They were comic cats in a variety of roles, all versions of the same rotund character with a balloon-like nose. They were the work of a popular local cartoonist and sculptor, Philippe Geltuck. In the 1980's, Geltuck created a character now famous as Le Chat, the Cat. Belgians are fond of caricature, and I have no doubt that they pride themselves on their national sense of humor. Beyond the park was the museum district that surrounded the Palais Royal. The Royal Palace and the neighboring structures all were huge and Neoclassical in style, as befitted the capital of a former imperial power. For months, I had been looking forward to seeing the Old Masters and the Magritte Museum. Usually the prolific Belgian surrealist’s paintings are in a separate wing, but they had been moved to a temporary set of galleries in the main part of the museum during renovations. Miri, HL and I began there. While I am familiar with many Magritte paintings, I had been unaware of some of his experiments. None seemed as successful as the paintings that later had brought him to prominence and beguiled my adolescent imagination. I had known that the Belgian Fine Arts Museum possessed some of the greatest works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, plus some by his sons. Hearing music, we entered a room where a film was being projected onto the walls. It was a video that immersed us in several of Breugel’s paintings, from phantasmagoria of damnation to scenes of the medieval Flemish countryside in Winter, with peasants on makeshift skates. The movement and magnification of the images dissolved the barriers between artist and observer. As I entered the scene, I gained a new appreciation for Breugel’s technique. Then we proceeded to the rooms where we could marvel at the original paintings, their wit and artistry undimmed after nearly five centuries. The best Flemish artists were well represented, from Van Eyck, Bosch and Memling to Rubens. Their successors’ canvases and sculptures filled the rooms. We could not do them justice in a single day. Frequently we broke the silence with our admiring gasps. We stayed in the museum until it closed and the guards herded us to the exit. It was a wonderful way to spend our last day in Brussels. Tomorrow we continue our adventures in Antwerp, where we are to board our ship for a river cruise.
Near the Museum’s entrance
Detail of the immersive video of Bruegel’s painting
Petit Sablon Park
Daffodils in Parc de Bruxelles
Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the inspiration for W.H.Auden’s poem, Musee des Beaux Artes
(which I recommend if you have not read it already, or even if you have )