By Laura Smith
Very near to Brugmann Park, in the south of Brussels, you will find the van Buuren Museum. This Amsterdam School-style country house has opened its interior and gardens to the public since the 1970’s. Constructed in 1928, what is today the van Buuren Museum was home to David and Alice van Buuren. Born in the Netherlands, David worked in banking in Brussels; Alice was born in Antwerp, and the couple were collectors and patrons of the arts.
Inside the red brick façade, visitors discover the couple’s extensive art collection, which spans the centuries. In the rooms and hallways of the house are paintings by the circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Fatin-Latour, Paul Signac, Max Ernst, Rik Wouters, Constant Permeke, James Ensor, and a large number of works by Gustave van de Woestyne, to name just a few. Beyond the paintings—which are what sparked my curiosity in visiting the museum initially—, what is most striking is the home’s carefully planned out interior and architectural design. In the living room, for example, you will learn that the fireplace was built taking into account the measurements of the Permeke painting (Night Seascape, 1913) that hangs above it; and gazing through the central living room window, one cannot help but be struck by the garden’s design, the framing of which provides a sense of visual balance. The van Buuren’s Art-Deco furniture, many pieces of which were commissioned from the French design company Dominique, displays a variety of exotic woods, typical of the style and period. In the main living room is a grand piano, built by Julius Blütner, and cased in rosewood by Dominique: many young pianists involved in the newly-founded Queen Elisabeth competition played on the piano. The many lighting fixtures throughout the house showcase intricate color and design motifs: I will remember the brilliantly arresting hanging lamp in the main entrance, designed by Jan Eisenloeffel, and my personal favorite, the understated but playful mushroom-style lamp sitting atop the piano.
In addition to the paintings and sculptures (many of these latter by George Minne), the furniture, the lighting, and the Delft blue porcelain, I was particular drawn to the boldly colorful rugs; these are spread across the floors through the dining and three connected living rooms. The text provided to visitors of the museum explains that the strong, bright, curved lines of Jaap Gidding’s rugs were influenced by the Kees van Dongen painting hanging in the same room (unfortunately, the original van Dongen was stolen from the collection in 2013: a photographic reproduction hangs in its place).
As one explores the van Buuren museum, room by room, the eye is constantly navigating and exploring the colors, textures and materials of the objects on display. The individual works, each with their own history, theme, style, and producer, are organized in such a way that the relation they create with the space and with one another is a palpable work of art itself: each room is a scene that contributes to the cohesion of the home. The two built-in table ash-trays, which stand next to seating, in the living room and study, ignite in the imagination scenes of animated conversation by the fireplace—the van Buuren’s entertained many well-known guests—or, quiet moments of solitude.
One of my favorite rooms in the house was the bright studio upstairs. Here we learn that the patron of the arts was also an artist himself. Among many paintings, drawings, and objects, there are two painted portraits of van Buuren in the studio; one by Gustave van de Woestyne, the other: a self-portrait. The significant differences between the portraits serve to highlight the subjective nature of perception.
In what was the van Buuren’s bedroom, a short video provides some background on the couple. This spans from their early years, to the construction of the house, to the couple’s move to the United States during the Second World War, to their life upon returning to Belgium. Emphasis is placed on their significant role in the design of their home, its interior and, after David’s death, the gardens. The story of the van Buuren’s is explained in storybook-style animation. While visually entertaining, the film’s style seemed to take precedence over the story of their lives and their passion for the arts.
Outside, the garden, like the house, has been carefully planned both in the details—in the variety and colors of the flowers, plants and trees,—and as a whole: the garden is divided in different sections—different gardens, including rose gardens and a hedge-maze. To the left of the main museum door is a discrete plaque that reads: “European Union Prize For Cultural Heritage (Europa Nostra Award) 2015.” This prize was awarded to the van Buuren museum for the conservation of its gardens.
Whether you are interested in architecture, painting, sculpture, tapestry, furniture, glass work, landscaping, or all of these together and more, the van Buuren museum & gardens offers the experience of an eclectic time capsule; one that is still living as its careful design speaks to the inter-relation between various forms of art.
Furthermore, if you are interested in Art-Deco and Art Nouveau, this coming weekend (30-31 March 2019) is the last weekend of The Brussels Art Nouveau & Art Deco (BANAD) Festival, a yearly festival that offers routes and tours of this heritage in Brussels (www.banad.brussels)
The van Buuren Museum is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 14:00 – 17:30.
Student entrance is €5.
For more information: https://www.museumvanbuuren.be/home.php
Special thanks to the museum for kindly providing me with documentation.