Opening "Dutch Spring" Rembrandt, Frans Hals and other masterpieces of the Dutch School to (re)discover at the RMFAB

Published on 31.01.2019

On Friday 1 February, “Dutch Spring”, a highlight of the cultural season, opens at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB).
After a long awaited renovation and on the occasion of the Rembrandt year, the museums reopen the wing dedicated to the exquisite permanent "Dutch School" collection. Some hundred masterpieces allow you to rediscover the master-painters of the Golden Age in all their glory. Simultaneously, two temporary exhibitions further highlight Dutch artistry: Frans Hals' family portraits and a cabinet with delightful 18th-century drawings!

Reopening of the exquisite permanent collection

The nine, recently renovated, room put the painting of the Dutch Golden Age in the spotlight. Apart from Rembrandt, whose 350st death day is celebrated this year, it offers the opportunity to rediscovers works by Frans Hals, Nicolaes Maes, Abraham Bloemaert, Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael and Pieter de Hooch. The “Dutch School” wing welcomes portraits, landscape, genre scenes and still lifes; and offers an extensive panorama of this fascinated artistic period.

During 17th century, the Northern Netherlands entered an era of unprecedented economic prosperity. This Golden Age saw cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem and Leiden transform into true hubs of artistic innovation.

After the long-awaited renovation (since 2005) of the Dutch galleries, about a hundred masterpieces finally get a well-deserved permanent spot in the Old Masters Museum. The RMFAB’s collection of Dutch art from this period – in total 320 art works – is the most important in Belgium, both in quality and quantity, and one of most beautiful in Europe.

The “Portrait of Nicolaes van Bambeeck” is the only painting by Rembrandt which is currently exhibited in Belgium. The pendant of this portrait, that of Agatha Bas, is one of the masterpieces of the British Royal Collection and is housed at Buckingham Palace.

The paintings are grouped by genre throughout the rooms: portraits, marines and landscapes, genre paintings, architectural paintings, fight scenes, historical paintings, animals and still lifes. The strength of the Brussels collection lies in the high quality of the works.

An important part of the exhibited works have been restored over the course of the last 25 years. It is the restoration of one of the collection’s masterpieces that was the basis for the creation of an exhibition about the family portraits of Frans Hals.

Frans Hals Portraits: A Family Reunion

The exhibition “Frans Hals Portraits: A Family Reunion” reunites three fragments of the Portrait of the Van Campen family by master-painter Frans Hals (1582– 1666) for the first time in over 200 years, after the painting was separated at the beginning of the 19th century. The reunited masterpiece is joined by the other three family portraits that Frans Hals painted during his lifetime. This second reunion show the brilliancy with which the artist broke away from traditional conventions of the genre, setting new standards for Western art.


The exhibition came about as a result of the complete restoration of a painting from the collection of the KMSKB in 2016. The project revealed new insights in the work Three Children in a Cart Drawn by a Goat, as the painting was known prior to its renovation. The restoration confirmed that the artwork is in fact a fragment of a much larger family portrait. The removal of overpaints also allowed researchers to establish a precise link with two other fragments preserved in the Toledo Museum of Art (USA) and in a private collection. This allowed for the reconstruction of the original appearance of Hals’ earliest family portrait (around 1622-25).

In the exhibition there is a video (of 5 minutes) that describes and highlights the different stages of this wonderful discovery.

This reconstruction is then confronted with the other three family portraits that Frans Hals painted later in his life, which were lent by the The National Gallery (London), the Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza (Madrid), and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The exhibition travels on to the Fondation Custodia in Paris from 8 juin until 25 august 2019.

A Cabinet of the Most Delightful Drawings

A second exquisite temporary exhibitions runs from 1 February until 19 May: “A Cabinet of the Most Delightful Drawings”. This exhibition shows a selections of 18th century Dutch drawings; 80 gems from the RMFAB’s collection of Jean de Grez, which comprises a total of 4250 drawings.

During the 18th century, collecting drawings and prints became widely popular in the Northern Netherlands. The exhibition shows the fascinating diversity in subject and technique that characterizes Dutch drawing at that time

The exhibition will be on view at the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede from 1 March until 28 Juin 2020 and afterwards at the Fondation Custodia. Collection Frits Lugt in Paris from 23 January until 18 April 2021.


Of course, visitors of the Old Masters Museum will still come to see the works of Bruegel, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens in the first place. After all, the focus of the museum lies on the works from the Southern Netherlands. I do hope, however, that a less rushed public will find its way to this renewed museum wing with works from the Northern Netherlands and that they will be pleasantly surprised by the richness and quality of this collection. May it be a tip for connoisseurs to share with each other.
Liesbeth DE BELIE, curator 17th Century Dutch Painting, RMFAB

People that are familiar with the collection of the Old Masters Museum will probably be surprised to see ‘The Goat Cart’ by Frans Hals fully restored and in its original context for the first time. And that is exactly the point.”
Liesbeth DE BELIE, curator 17th Century Dutch Painting, RMFAB

While preparing this exhibition, I was more and more impressed by the astounding finesse and skills of the 18th-century Dutch drawers who are unjustifiably less known than their 17th-century predecessors. Their masterful sense of colour by the rich application of watercolour and gouache, a rarity in the 17th century, is remarkable and a major innovation.”
Stefaan HAUTEKEETE, Curator works on paper (ancient art), RMFAB

What’s interesting about this exhibition is that it not only reflects the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century with its beautifully coloured drawings from famous paintings and its predilection for Italianate and Arcadian landscapes, but also announces the next century by showing more naturalistic, contemporary images of silent, less distinguished places and fresh, spontaneous open air and interior sketches.”
Stefaan HAUTEKEETE, Curator works on paper (ancient art), RMFAB