Establishment and evolution
In the 70s, a young and visionary Maurice Verbaet started collecting art. His spouse Caroline joined him in his pursuit in 1989. Motivated by their shared predilection for Belgian art and guided by their refined taste, they acquired numerous exceptional pieces at affordable prices in those early days. Over time, the caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection grew into the most extensive collection in its genre. Drawing widespread attention, it has now claimed its rightful position in the national as well as the international artistic landscape. The well-considered further expansion of the caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection remains an ongoing project, steadily adding to its wealth and its museum-worthy appeal.
Caroline and Maurice’s primary objective is to (re)acquaint a broad audience with Belgian art. To fulfill their mission, they have lent numerous works to prestigious museums in Belgium as well as abroad and continue to do so. A true turning point, however, was the 2012 exhibition at the Museum of Ixelles entitled ‘Belgian art. A modern century’. Paul Fierens, former head curator at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, once stated that a collection should be seen as a work of art in its own right and displayed as such. Upholding this principle, the ambitious entrepreneurial couple asked Michel Draguet, who currently serves as director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts ofBelgium, to select specific pieces from their collection that shed light on the idea of modernity as embodied in late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century Belgian art. Featuring unique works by prominent Belgian artists such as Ensor, Spilliaert, Khnopff, Permeke, Magritte, Delahaut, Mortier, Michaux, Bury and Alechinsky, ’Belgian art. A modern century’ was warmly received by press and public alike. This temporary exhibition further fueled Caroline and Maurice’s enthusiasm and eventually led them to narrow their focus.
Shortly afterwards, Caroline and Maurice decided to sell their prewar pieces, inspired to promulgate a more clear-cut and coherent narrative. Henceforth, their collection would mainly revolve around ’Les Trentes Glorieuses’, the period between 1945 and 1975 that heralded the revival of Belgian art. A few more recent and contemporary artworks were kept or added to allow them to engage in a dialogue with their postwar counterparts. A new chapter had begun and the establishment of the Maurice Verbaet Center soon ensued.
A private museum
Over the past few years, the number of privately-run museums and other artistic institutions in Belgium has increased considerably. Examples include the Verbeke Fondation in Kemzeke (2007), the Collection Vanmoerkerke in Ostend (2007), the Vanhaerents Art Collection in Brussels (2008), the BrusselsCAB Art Centre(2012), the Herbert Foundation in Ghent (2013) and boîte à projets ETE 78 in Ixelles (2014). Although each of these projects can boast its own unique character, they are driven by the same underlying force; their initiators all harbor the ambition to share their collections with a broad audience. This widespread privatization is all the more striking when compared with the overall cutbacks in the cultural sector, caused by consecutive economic crises. Nevertheless, it is an interesting evolution that may contribute significantly to the diversification and expansion of Belgium’s artistic offerings. If even more private collectors were to provide a platform for their art, it would indeed greatly advance access to (inter)national treasures, including archival materials. Furthermore, the rise of private artistic organizations and museums will hopefully expedite the creation and exploitation of synergies between the public and private cultural sectors, enabling them to mutually benefit from each other’s respective competencies.
In 2015, the Verbaets decided to take the plunge and open their own private museum in Antwerp, primarily dedicated to Belgian postwar art. Housed in a magnificent 1960s building, which previously accommodated the headquarters of the Antwerp Water Works, the artworks on display blend in seamlessly with their surroundings: a picture-perfect set-up. The Maurice Verbaet Center, which incidentally shares its name with the overarching center of expertise, invites its visitors to enjoy the sheer abundance of the carefully curated caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection. The improved visibility of the collection helps to bring new attention to Belgian postwar artists, some of whom have been undeservedly forgotten. In short, by means of their museum, Caroline and Maurice aspire to protect the art of ‘Les Trentes Glorieuses’ and its creators from indifference or oblivion, for now and for generations to come.
Center of expertise
The Maurice Verbaet Center, in its dual role as center of expertise and private museum, strives to help Belgian postwar art to rightfully reclaim the spotlight. It is a well-known phenomenon that artists who are considered geniuses or enjoy fame and popularity during their lifetime, are often quickly forgotten after their death. Moreover, unknown makes unloved. Art foundations or patrons and benefactors, however, can contribute to keeping alive the memories of these bygone artists. Caroline and Maurice have set themselves this very task by according the works of artists such as Francis Olin, Marc Mendelson, Vic Gentils, Serge Vandercam, Tapta and many others a prominent place in their collection. The Verbaets have hitherto been more than successful in their endeavors, and they continue their efforts in Belgium as well as abroad.
The ever-evolving nature of the caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection reflects the couple’s ambition to approach Belgian postwar art from multiple perspectives, to confront different artists and styles with one another, and to unceasingly promote the revaluation of numerous meritorious postwar artists.
Exhibitions and continuous growth
Diverse exhibitions have been held at the Antwerp Maurice Verbaet Center since its opening in September 2015, each accompanied by a publication or a catalog, which also serves as a lasting reference work on relevant aspects of Belgian postwar art.
‘Connexions One. Belgian Art 1945-1975’ offered visitors a first opportunity to get acquainted with the newly founded private museum and the lavish artistic wealth of ‘Les Trentes Glorieuses’. The opening exhibition comprised paintings and sculptures by Jan Saverys, Francis Olin, André Goffin, Jozef & Guy Mees, Pierre Alechinsky, Fred Bervoets, Bram Bogaert, Bert De Leeuw, Vic Gentils, Marc Mendelson, Antoine Mortier, Tapta, Maurice Wyckaert and many others. At the same time, Caroline and Maurice had lent several pieces from their collection to various institutions in France, such as the Jean Cocteau Museum, the Gallery of Contemporary Art-Palais de l’Europe, the Tavet-Delacour Museum and theEstrineMuseum, to bring international attention to their new Antwerp museum and its first exhibition. Having achieved this goal, ‘Connexions One. Belgian Art 1945-1975’ was eventually lauded as a great success by the Belgian as well as the international press.
Subsequently, the Maurice Verbaet Center organized two solo exhibitions. The first was devoted to the works of Paul Van Hoeydonck, and encompassed the release of a book and a documentary about the artist. The second, the center’s most extensive retrospective to date, zoomed in on René Guiette and his oeuvre, and included pieces on loan from several Belgian museums and private collectors. The intensive research that preceded this exhibition was also translated into a documentary film and a comprehensive publication.
At the start of 2018, it was decided to organize a permanent exhibition displaying a biannually changing selection of works from the caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection, entitled ‘Private Choices’. As the caroline&mauriceverbaetcollection steadily grows, more of the Verbaets’ artistic ventures take shape and more ambitious plans are being laid.
The Antwerp Maurice Verbaet Center aims to keep on surprising its audience with various events, diverse temporary exhibitions and a regularly changing selection of artworks on display. With its own gourmet restaurant, TAPTA, and panoramic hall, where you can enjoy a spectacular 360° view of the city, the museum will undoubtedly continue to offer all its visitors a memorable experience.
The Maurice Verbaet Gallery in Knokke has recently secured a new, grand space in its seaside hometown. The gallery will reopen its doors in early 2019.