The Groeninge Museum is highly regarded primarily for its masterpieces of the Southern Netherlands from the 15th and early 16th Centuries. In addition to the Flemish Primitives' collection, the museum also houses a number of works from the period of the later 16th Century to the present, along with, amongst others, an impressive sub-collection of Neo-Classical art from Bruges and a representative ensemble of Flemish Expressionist painting. It is clear that the art of the 17th Century within the Groeninge is not a priority. However, over the years a quality collection has been assembled that is characteristic of that time period.
The collection of the Groeninge Museum began in the Bruges' Academy for drawing and painting, established in 1717. The statutes of 1720 determined that every artist was obliged to donate a painting to the Academy. Due to a fire in 1755, the large part of the collection at the time was lost, but the prescribed gifting clause remained valid, by which a large number of works from the second half of the 18th Century were assembled. Moreover, older works from the Academy were brought in such as The Harbour Basin in Bruges by Hendrik van Minderhout from 1653, which was gifted by Paul Josef de Cock.
Beginning in 1794, the French occupation took possession of valuable works of art from Church and public domains which were taken to Paris. In 1796, the remaining works were inventoried and later collected in the former Duinenabdij in Bruges, where an École centrale was founded, with a museum: the Musée du Département de la Lys.
Various works by Jacob van Oost I were taken out context in this manner, such as The Charity of Saint Martin and Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ from the Bruges' abbey of Sint-Trudo, the Portrait of a Theologian with his Secretary from the abbey of Spermalie, and two scenes from the life of St. Anthony of Padua from the Minderbroeder's Church. Jacob Van Oost I could be considered to be the most important figure of the Bruges' Baroque period. Van Oost received numerous commissions for the churches and cloisters in Bruges and its environs. In addition, he is known for his portraits and secular history pieces. During the 1620's he stayed for a few years in Italy, which had a significant impact on his style.
After the disbanding of the École centrale in 1803-1804, a portion of the collected works was returned to the original owners; the others became property of the city. After the end of the French occupation in 1815, the confiscated works were also brought back from Paris to Bruges. The city of Bruges chose to expand upon the Academy Museum in lieu of building its own museum. In 1827-1828, some thirty important works were brought to the Academy by the city. In addition to various works from the current core collection of Flemish Primitives, there are inter alia, for the Baroque period, abovementioned works by Jacob van Oost I and four large landscape paintings by the Brussels' painter Lucas Achtschellinck.
In the second half of the 19th Century, the Academy fell upon hard times; the entire possessions, including the art works, were taken over by the City of Bruges in 1892, which to this day is the proprietor of the art collection. At the time, the works were taken to the Bogaerden School. In the former Jesuit college on the Verwersdijk, in 1898, a Museum of Modern Art was established. Only in 1930 was the dearth of an exhibition space solved with the inauguration of the new Groeninge Museum, on the Groeningestraat. There is where the masters first found a place; one year later, the exhibition was rounded out by the 18th Century and modern masters.
In 1955, the Antiquities' Association of Bruges, which showed its collection in the Gruuthus Museum, disbanded. The holdings were acquired by the City of Bruges. The numerous paintings, amongst which are city views and Jacob van Oost's I Portrait of Fovin de Hasque became housed in the Groeninge Museum.
In addition to the various acquisitions, gifts and legates and have been another important source of bringing in many Baroque works into the collection. Van Oost's Mockery of Christ, for example comes from a bequest from 1931. The legate of Charles Van der Beeck-Bouvy dates from 1904. This legacy brought a notable addition to the Baroque collection of the Groeninge Museum, with 17th-centruy paintings from both the Northern and Southern Low Countries. The collection contains various still lives, amongst which is Still Life with Fish by Alexander Adriaenssen and two florals by Jan Baptist Bosschaert. Representative landscapes, genre pieces and portraits are likewise present, as well as a few religious pieces, such as Man of Sorrows by Jan Janssens and Angel Pieta by the circle of Louis de Deyster. Organisations also brought in noteworthy donations. The Saint George Guild and the Société Médico-Chirugicale also both gifted a portrait of an important person from their association, both painted by Jacob van Oost I.
Finally, the Baroque collection was enriched by an astute acquisitions' management. In 1995, the Saintly Martyrs by Jacob van Oost I was purchased in London. In the past, various acquisitions came about by means of the Friends of the Museum, such as The Painter's Studio by Jacob van Oost I in 1905. The current association of the Friends of the City Museums of Bruges was set up in 1958 and supports further acquisitions. In 1983, in this way the The Soothsayer of van Oost came into possession. By academically supported purchases an aspect of the specific character of the collection has been enhanced. On the other hand, the Bruges' Baroque collection has been placed in a broader art-historical context. In 1991, with the support of the Friends of the City Museums of Bruges, a National Lottery took place, and the Achilles and the Daughters of Lycomedes by Erasmus Quellinus II was acquired, of which a smaller copy was already present in the collectioin. In 2012, the Portrait of Samuel Crew by Peter Lely was acquired, which is an characteristic example of his synthesis of the Dutch and Flemish portrait traditions, with indisputable influences by Anthony van Dyck.
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