Historical background

The history of the Museums begins more than two centuries ago. Over the years, the growth of the collections and changing trends in museology have brought about radical changes in the shape and appearance of the buildings.

  French regime (1794 - 1815)

  • 1794 - After the battle of Fleurus (June), various bodies of French agents and commissioners seize works of art throughout what is now Belgium for the Louvre Museum in Paris. These forced requisitions, undertaken in a context of military conquest, are followed by other actions leading to the secularization and the concentration of numerous works of art and science separated out from sales of national assets.
  • 1798 - Guillaume Bosschaert is appointed curator of the Musée de l’École centrale by the Departmental Administration (Département of the Dyle). He continues to bring together, in the palace of Charles of Lorraine (the 'Old Court'), nationalized works still scattered around the country.
  • 1801 - First Consul Bonaparte signs the famous Decree of 14 Fructidor IX (1st September 1801), the so-called Chaptal Decree creating 15 département museums, including one in Brussels. Two major groups of works from the Louvre collections are assigned to Brussels in 1802 and 1811.
  • 1803 - The minister confirms Bosschaert's appointment as curator. Opening of the Museum to the public and publication of the first systematic catalogue of the collections.
  • 1811 - The City of Brussels becomes the owner of the Museum.


Dutch regime (1815 - 1830)

King Willem I extends the collections with various donations and expands the building of the Old Court, where the Museum is located.

  • 1815 - Restitution of works of art by France. The Museum is enriched with a number of outstanding works.
  • 1818 - The attempt to make the Museum, currently a municipal museum, into a Royal Museum, fails. The Museum continues to the owned by the municipality.
  • 1823 - Administrative changes: the curators are now assisted by a committee of artists.


Independent Belgium   

  • 1835 - King Leopold I creates in Brussels a National Museum to receive the "most distinguished works of the best Belgian masters".
  • 1842 - The Museum, previously owned by the City of Brussels, is transferred to the Belgian State under a convention dated 31 December 1842.
  • 1845 - Creation at the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture of a special section devoted to modern production.
  • 1846 - First Organic Regulations of the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture of Belgium.
  • 1863 - Publication of Edouard Fétis’ first catalogue, listing 361 works.
  • 1868 - Second Organic Regulation, the Wiertz Museum is attached to the institution that is now officially  named Royal Museums of Painting and Sculpture in Belgium.
  • 1880 - Inauguration of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, in the Rue de la Régence/Regentschapsstraat, designed by architect Alphonse Balat.
  • 1887 - The Palais des Beaux-Arts loses its original destination in 1887 to become the Museum of Ancient Art. The modern art collections remain in the Old Court, where the vacant rooms are dedicated to exhibitions by artistic circles, including Les XX and LaLibre Esthétique.
  • 1907 - Creation of the Société des Amis des Musées royaux de l’État in Brussels.
  • 1914 - The de Grez donation (4250 drawings) makes the Drawings Cabinet into one of the largest in Belgium.
  • 1919 - New organic decree and change of name: the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium is given a scientific staff headed by a curator-in-chief in the person of  Hippolyte Fierens-Gevaert.
  • 1927 - New and final name: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
  • 1939 - Official opening of the  Meunier Museum.
  • 1952 - Publication of the first scientific "Bulletin".
  • 1958 - Creation of the Expressionism in Belgium archives, later to become the Archives of Contemporary Art in Belgium (AACB).
  • 1959 - The Museum of Modern Art leaves the Old Court. Between 1962 and 1978 it remains squeezed into a "Pocket Museum" on the Place Royale/Koningsplein.
  • 1965 - New organic provisions confirm the institution's scientific establishment status and introduce an organization into 'departments'.
  • 1967 - The Hôtel Argenteau and the Hôtel Gresham on the Place Royale/Koningsplein are integrated into the Museums. Creation of the Friends of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
  • 1970 - Creation of the French and Dutch educational services.
  • 1974 - Inauguration of new extensions (53 rooms) to Balat's edifice. These serve to present the 15th and 16th century art works of the Oldmasters Museum and those of the 19th century.
  • 1978 - Retroactive confirmation (1971) of the attachment of the  Meunier Museum  to the institution.
  • 1984 - Inauguration of the new Museum of Modern Art built by Roger Bastin and of the renovated rooms of the Museum of Ancient Art. Publication of the first catalogue-inventories of Ancient Painting and Modern Painting.
  • 1992 - Inauguration of a new sculpture gallery and publication of the catalogue of 19th century sculpture. Official opening of the sculpture garden.
  • 1993 - With the fourth state reform, Belgium becomes a federal state and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium a federal scientific institution.
  • 1997 - The 19th century collections are transferred to the Altenloh building.
  • 2003 - The Museum celebrates the bicentennial of its opening to the public. Publication of a two-volume liber memorialis (reference below). Inauguration of an expanded museum visitor complex (new wing of the Oldmasters Museum of Ancient Art), modernized and redesigned with a stronger public service approach.
  • 2005 - Renovation work begins on the neo-classical Altenloh building on the Place Royale/Koningsplein.
  • 2008 - Renovation of the Wiertz Museum.
  • 2009 - Opening of the Magritte Museum in the Hôtel Altenloh. This Museum was made possible by a public-private collaboration between the Museums and the French company GDF Suez.
  • 2013 - Opening of the  Fin-de-Siècle Museum.


For a more detailed history (until 2002), see Van Kalck, Michèle (ed.), Les Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique : Deux siècles d’histoire, 2 vols., Brussels, Éditions Racine, 2003.