Between public relevance and personal pleasure. Private art collectors and the cultural and artistic life in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, ca. 1830-1914

Tussen publiek belang en persoonlijk genoegen. Private kunstverzamelaars en het culturele en artistieke leven in Brussel, Antwerpen en Gent, ca. 1830-1914
Start - End 
2014 - 2019 (ongoing)
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Region 
Research Language 
Additional tags 
History of collecting
History of taste
Social history
Art collections



Throughout the long nineteenth century Belgium was home to a remarkably large number of private art collections. Many of those were visited by an interested local and international public and were popular topics in the contemporary press. Especially after the creation of the Belgian nation state in 1830, private collectors increasingly directed their interest to art works and artefacts of national historical value. However, no scientific attention has so far been paid to the question how these collectors and their collections influenced – and were influenced by – the formation and consolidation of a national taste and artistic canon. This project therefore has a double aim: firstly, it identifies and inventories the major private collectors active in the Belgian artistic centers Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent between 1830 and 1914, determines their social and political profile and traces the motivations of their collecting activity. Secondly, it analyzes their relationships with artists, art dealers, critics and historians as well as discussions of their collections published in periodicals and catalogues in order to gain insights into the collectors’ involvement with and impact on the creation, mediation and reception of a national taste and canon. By this means, this project aspires to shed new light on the features and mechanisms of the urban art circles in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Belgium, and on the particular role private collectors played therein.

This is a joint PhD between Ghent University (prof. M. Sterckx) and Antwerp University (prof.dr. Ilja Van Damme).

Dit onderzoeksproject identificeert en inventariseert de belangrijkste particuliere kunstverzamelaars in Antwerpen, Brussel en Gent tussen 1830 en 1914. Het onderzoekt hun sociaal profiel en relaties en analyseert de discussie van hun collecties in eigentijdse publicaties om conclusies te trekken over de rol die de verzamelaars speelden in het ontstaan, de verspreiding en de receptie van een nationale smaak en canon.

Trefwoorden: Verzamelgeschiedenis, Geschiedenis van de smaak, Kunstgeschiedenis, Sociale geschiedenis, Lange negentiende eeuw, Collectionneurs



Phd Student(s)


Ilja Van Damme