The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium has the world’s largest collection of works by René Magritte. Both from the viewpoint of its continuty – all the artist’s periods are widely represented – and its diversity – paintings, drawings, gouaches, posters, advertising work, letters, photographs, sculptures, films and other documents. This collection has a history. It is the fruit of astute purchases and generous donations. I am happy here to render homage to those whose contributions have been so essential: Georgette Magritte first of all, next Irène Scutenaire-Hamoir, have made bequests to the Royal Museums of certain masterpieces that give the Magritte Museum its dazzle. Our hope is that all our donors will find, in the pages that follow, testimony of our gratitude. May we particularly acknowledge Mrs Germaine Hergé-Kieckens, the Province of Brabant, as well as Maurice Rapin and Mirabelle Dors.
This unique collection is deserving of an appropriate home in the capital of Europe. From 1984, Philippe Roberts-Jones, the chief curator at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, made the Salle Magritte one of the highlights of the Museum of Modern Art. Since that date, the ensemble has ever continued developing, even 'invading' the museum’s other floors. In 2005, the future of the collection underwent a quantum leap. Thanks to the mediation of Charly Herscovici, president of the Magritte Foundation, initial contact was made, in Paris, with heads of the franco-belgian group GDF SUEZ. From here the idea was born to establish a future Magritte Museum on Place Royale, in premises of the Hôtel Altenloh. Restored in 1984, this registered landmark building has known successive incarnations: temporary exhibition spaces or rooms devoted to 19th-century art. The relationship allying GDF SUEZ to Magritte is not new. Not long ago, to mark Belgium’s 175th anniversary, the group chose to sponsor Magritte et la photographie, a grand exhibition organised by Patrick Roegiers and the Magritte Foundation. A bit further back in the recent past, there was the large retrospective to celebrate the painter’s 100th birthday, organised by... the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
Starting with the initial sketch, the project took shape. And while retainng a musel outlook, an original structural form emerged: that of a patron of competence that would enter into a longtime institutional relationship, a first for Belgium. At that time, there was no legislation on the books supporting business philanthropy, nor fiscal measures to favour this sort of intervention. At the end of delicate negotiations, an initial contract was concluded. The instability that marked the Belgian political scene in 2007 did nothing to accelerate the project. The 'current state of affairs' have also prompted museum officials to refine their financial projections and commercial strategies. In close collaboration with the consulting firm McKinsey, studies have confirmed the soundness of the project.
Plans had but to await the formation of a new government to become reality. The arrival in office of Sabine Laruelle as head of the Federal Ministry of Political Science saw our case relaunched. On February 29th 2008, a contract was signed (with press present) between the Federal State – in the person of the Vice-Premier Minister Didier Reynders, for the Department of Buildings, and Sabine Laruelle for the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium – GDF SUEZ, represented by Gérard Mestrallet, president-director general of GDF SUEZ, and Charly Herscovici, president of the Magritte Foundation. On May 27th 2008, the mounting of the Magrittean tarp designed by GDF SUEZ on the building’s façade marked the start of the renovation site. Like a partially open curtain, the covering is imprinted with The Dominion of Light which, thanks to linked solar panels, is at night illuminated to grace Place Royale. This very apt emblem of the future Magritte Museum is an image that has had worldwide impact, awakening enthusiastic interest in the press as well as among numerous internet surfers.
The Magritte Museum could only take pleasure in the signing of an agreement that acted as the starting point for a fabulous adventure, rendered possible by the decisive action of GDF SUEZ. We thank the intervention of teams, on the initiation of Fabricom GTI, AXIMA Contracting and INEO media system, that count among the world’s leaders in their domains. Owing to this spirit that drives this large international group, the Museum’s perspective has been open to various innovations: developing new and sustainable technologies, green energy and interactivity. Today, while building work nears its finish, it is timely to take a look back. GDF SUEZ and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have put together a team driven by a single ambition: to make the Magritte Museum a place of excellence where the quality of professionalism found at Suez is showcased in the service of the oeuvre of an artist who has greatly influenced the thought – and not only the art – of the 20th century. Between GDF SUEZ and the Royal Museums, we have established a unified team spirit, embued with warmth and enthusiasm.
Furthermore, even if the Royal Museums’ collection constitutes the leading museal ensemble consecrated to Magritte, it seemed to us necessary to enrich this selection. Thanks to the amical help of Charly Herscovici, president of the Magritte Foundation, a great many collectors have manifested their support by loaning works that will permit our visitors to enjoy many pieces held in private hands. I would like to express our deep gratitude here to them all. This, all the more so, given that from 2011 the Museum will be reserving a space for temporary exhibitions centred on different aspects of Magritte’s oeuvre. And, to begin, we will highlight his affinities to personalities like Miró, Breton, Cornell and Dalí. In this perspective, our relationship with other major museums and collectors constitute a priority which will make our lenders the premier ambassadors of the Magritte Museum’s remit.
Among our partners, there is one in particular that bodes well for the future, namely the ties now established between the Royal Museums of Fine Arts and the Menil Foundation in Houston. This important American institution, whose home was conceived by Renzo Piano, accomplished the most noteworthy scholarly work devoted to Magritte: the five-volume 'catalogue raisonné' under the direction of the much regretted David Sylvester and published between 1992 et 1995, that comprises a unique source of information as well as a treasure of documentation that the Royal Museums intends to add to, and make wider known within a framework of close cooperation with the Menil Foundation.
For the Royal Museums, the partnership formed with GDF SUEZ and the Magritte Foundation has been determinant. In its committment to professionalism and excellence, this partnership offers to Brussels, city and region, as well as to Belgium as a whole, a lever of cultural and economic development, a presence as a major actor in intellectual life and a strong reference in terms of tourism – prominently on Place Royale, in the very heart of the city and Europe itself. With his new home in a setting full of history and memory, Magritte may now receive the proper homage of a culture that he marked in so major a way with his thought, at once generous and subversive, poetic and critical.