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Between public relevance and personal pleasure : private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1780-1914

Ulrike Müller (UGent)
(2019)
Author
Promoter
(UGent) and Ilja Van Damme
Organization
Abstract
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Belgium was repeatedly praised as a country of collectors and amateurs, and private art and antique collectors were important and highly visible actors in urban cultural life. At a time when the public museum was still a relatively recent innovation, private collections were quite easily accessible for local and international visitors of the same social rank as the collectors. Private collections were places of cultural exchange and social interaction; they guaranteed the preservation of the local and national heritage; and they provided models for artistic and (art) historical study. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the collector’s position in and relationship to the public sphere had undergone considerable transformations. In touristic sources and travel literature, Belgium was no longer generally considered a country of private collectors. By 1900, the image of private collectors furthermore began to reveal a discrepancy between private and public. Private collections were less accessible to an ever-expanding and increasingly culture-consuming public, and functioned more strongly in the context of the personal and explicitly private aims and networks of their owners. Private collectors defined their role less on the basis of a public and national reasoning, but increasingly through individual and aesthetic motivations, and a close involvement in the contemporary artistic and cultural life. This book aims to uncover the premises and reasons for private collectors’ shifting public relevance. What happened precisely to the public role of private collectors over the course of the century? How and why did their position in society change? The existing literature on the nineteenth-century private art and antique collector mainly focuses, on the one hand, on the social and cultural determination of collectors’ artistic preferences and the function of their collections, or on the (psychological) motivations that drive collectors’ choice of specific objects, genres or styles. In the context of art and museum history, on the other hand, private collectors have mostly been considered as donors and benefactors, with their role in and relevance to the creation and increasing importance of these public institutions generally being evaluated in terms of their material contributions. While private collectors’ important contribution to the public museum culture certainly cannot be denied, little research has been conducted into collectors’ actual and changing relationship and contribution to the urban cultural life and artistic circles of the nineteenth century. This book aims to fill this gap by concentrating precisely on the (changing) public role and relevance of private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent during the long nineteenth century (ca. 1780-1914). It intends to examine the specific social, cultural, political, artistic and material context of private collectors’ activity, and it looks at the complex phenomenon of private collecting in nineteenth-century Belgian cities from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, combining art history and interior decoration history approaches with the methods of urban, social and cultural history and material culture studies. Its main focus is on three related issues relevant to private collectors’ activity: 1) collectors’ social profiles and networks; 2) collectors’ tastes and the range of their collected objects; and 3) the function, accessibility, display and reception of the collections. Much attention will also be paid to the specific local contexts of Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent and the differences between these three cities with regard to the urban collecting cultures. In seven chapters, this book places private collectors and their collections in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent within a broader national and international context and links them to the period’s social, political, cultural and artistic transformations, most notably the ongoing processes of democratisation, social and political diversification, the professionalization of the art market and the (art) historical discipline, the internationalisation of culture and the rise of the public museum. The first chapter explores the general trends and tendencies in the private collecting culture as an elite practice in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent and it outlines private collectors’ (changing) profiles and public reception over the course of the century as well as differences in collectors’ social backgrounds, professions and tastes in the three cities in question. The following six chapters discuss a number of carefully selected case studies of private collectors from Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent in combination with six themes relative to the broader trends that characterised society, culture and the art world during the long nineteenth century. These chapters focus on: the Dukes of Arenberg in Brussels and the continuation of the aesthetic and educational ideals of the Enlightenment (chapter 2); the Ghent architect Louis Minard, the cultural phenomenon of Historicism and antiquarian collecting (chapter 3); Chevalier Théodore de Coninck de Merckem in Ghent, the concept of nationalism and the rise of a Belgian school of contemporary art (chapter 4); the Huybrechts family in Antwerp, social and cultural diversification and the emerging public-private divide in the private collecting sphere (chapter 5); the Brussels collector-connoisseur Charles-Léon Cardon, bourgeois individualism and fin-de-siècle Aestheticism (chapter 6); and Emma Lambotte in Antwerp, the increasing activeness and visibility of women collectors and the rise of the artistic avant-garde (chapter 7). In discussing how specific cultural traditions and aesthetic ideals such as the accessibility and the educational function of private collections were adopted by collectors in different social, political and cultural contexts, and how these ideals gradually made way to new, more individualist and aestheticising approaches to private collecting, these chapters aim to trace the continuities and discontinuities of private collectors’ activities and their relation to the urban public sphere. By this means, this book hopes to further our understanding of the diverse ways in which private art and antique collectors interacted with the social, cultural and artistic life of their cities, how this interaction changed over the course of the century, and what the collectors’ changing relationship to the public sphere can tell us about broader shifts in nineteenth-century culture, art and society.
Keywords
History of collecting, private collections, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Long nineteenth century

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Citation

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MLA
Müller, Ulrike. “Between Public Relevance and Personal Pleasure : Private Art and Antique Collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, Ca. 1780-1914.” 2019 : n. pag. Print.
APA
Müller, U. (2019). Between public relevance and personal pleasure : private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1780-1914.
Chicago author-date
Müller, Ulrike. 2019. “Between Public Relevance and Personal Pleasure : Private Art and Antique Collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, Ca. 1780-1914.”
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Müller, Ulrike. 2019. “Between Public Relevance and Personal Pleasure : Private Art and Antique Collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, Ca. 1780-1914.”
Vancouver
1.
Müller U. Between public relevance and personal pleasure : private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1780-1914. 2019.
IEEE
[1]
U. Müller, “Between public relevance and personal pleasure : private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1780-1914,” 2019.
@phdthesis{8621578,
  abstract     = {In the first half of the nineteenth century, Belgium was repeatedly praised as a country of collectors and amateurs, and private art and antique collectors were important and highly visible actors in urban cultural life. At a time when the public museum was still a relatively recent innovation, private collections were quite easily accessible for local and international visitors of the same social rank as the collectors. Private collections were places of cultural exchange and social interaction; they guaranteed the preservation of the local and national heritage; and they provided models for artistic and (art) historical study.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the collector’s position in and relationship to the public sphere had undergone considerable transformations. In touristic sources and travel literature, Belgium was no longer generally considered a country of private collectors. By 1900, the image of private collectors furthermore began to reveal a discrepancy between private and public. Private collections were less accessible to an ever-expanding and increasingly culture-consuming public, and functioned more strongly in the context of the personal and explicitly private aims and networks of their owners. Private collectors defined their role less on the basis of a public and national reasoning, but increasingly through individual and aesthetic motivations, and a close involvement in the contemporary artistic and cultural life.
This book aims to uncover the premises and reasons for private collectors’ shifting public relevance. What happened precisely to the public role of private collectors over the course of the century? How and why did their position in society change?
The existing literature on the nineteenth-century private art and antique collector mainly focuses, on the one hand, on the social and cultural determination of collectors’ artistic preferences and the function of their collections, or on the (psychological) motivations that drive collectors’ choice of specific objects, genres or styles. In the context of art and museum history, on the other hand, private collectors have mostly been considered as donors and benefactors, with their role in and relevance to the creation and increasing importance of these public institutions generally being evaluated in terms of their material contributions. While private collectors’ important contribution to the public museum culture certainly cannot be denied, little research has been conducted into collectors’ actual and changing relationship and contribution to the urban cultural life and artistic circles of the nineteenth century.
This book aims to fill this gap by concentrating precisely on the (changing) public role and relevance of private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent during the long nineteenth century (ca. 1780-1914). It intends to examine the specific social, cultural, political, artistic and material context of private collectors’ activity, and it looks at the complex phenomenon of private collecting in nineteenth-century Belgian cities from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, combining art history and interior decoration history approaches with the methods of urban, social and cultural history and material culture studies. Its main focus is on three related issues relevant to private collectors’ activity: 1) collectors’ social profiles and networks; 2) collectors’ tastes and the range of their collected objects; and 3) the function, accessibility, display and reception of the collections. Much attention will also be paid to the specific local contexts of Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent and the differences between these three cities with regard to the urban collecting cultures.
In seven chapters, this book places private collectors and their collections in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent within a broader national and international context and links them to the period’s social, political, cultural and artistic transformations, most notably the ongoing processes of democratisation, social and political diversification, the professionalization of the art market and the (art) historical discipline, the internationalisation of culture and the rise of the public museum. The first chapter explores the general trends and tendencies in the private collecting culture as an elite practice in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent and it outlines private collectors’ (changing) profiles and public reception over the course of the century as well as differences in collectors’ social backgrounds, professions and tastes in the three cities in question. The following six chapters discuss a number of carefully selected case studies of private collectors from Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent in combination with six themes relative to the broader trends that characterised society, culture and the art world during the long nineteenth century. These chapters focus on: the Dukes of Arenberg in Brussels and the continuation of the aesthetic and educational ideals of the Enlightenment (chapter 2); the Ghent architect Louis Minard, the cultural phenomenon of Historicism and antiquarian collecting (chapter 3); Chevalier Théodore de Coninck de Merckem in Ghent, the concept of nationalism and the rise of a Belgian school of contemporary art (chapter 4); the Huybrechts family in Antwerp, social and cultural diversification and the emerging public-private divide in the private collecting sphere (chapter 5); the Brussels collector-connoisseur Charles-Léon Cardon, bourgeois individualism and fin-de-siècle Aestheticism (chapter 6); and Emma Lambotte in Antwerp, the increasing activeness and visibility of women collectors and the rise of the artistic avant-garde (chapter 7). In discussing how specific cultural traditions and aesthetic ideals such as the accessibility and the educational function of private collections were adopted by collectors in different social, political and cultural contexts, and how these ideals gradually made way to new, more individualist and aestheticising approaches to private collecting, these chapters aim to trace the continuities and discontinuities of private collectors’ activities and their relation to the urban public sphere. By this means, this book hopes to further our understanding of the diverse ways in which private art and antique collectors interacted with the social, cultural and artistic life of their cities, how this interaction changed over the course of the century, and what the collectors’ changing relationship to the public sphere can tell us about broader shifts in nineteenth-century culture, art and society.},
  author       = {Müller, Ulrike},
  keywords     = {History of collecting,private collections,Brussels,Antwerp,Ghent,Long nineteenth century},
  language     = {eng},
  school       = {Ghent University},
  title        = {Between public relevance and personal pleasure : private art and antique collectors in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1780-1914},
  year         = {2019},
}