Society of Friends of Belgium in America


Boston College McMullen Museum of Art presents
Premier Belgian Art; Most in First North American Display

A New Key: Modern Belgian Art from the Simon Collection
February 10 - July 22, 2007

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (1-07) – The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents A New Key: Modern Belgian Art from the Simon Collection. The exhibition—on view from February 10 through July 22, 2007—comprises 53 works of art, most in their first North American display. This is also the first time that this selection of works has been displayed together as a group.

The Simon Collection, housed in London and France, is the finest collection of modern Belgian art outside Belgium. (M ore on the Simon Collection, page 2.) This exhibition includes important paintings by René Magritte, James Ensor, Frits van den Berghe, Paul Delvaux, Theo van Rysselberghe, Emile Claus, Leon Spilliaert, Gustave de Smet and Constant Permeke, among others.

According to organizers, modernist scholarship has focused on Paris, Berlin, Moscow and New York as the centers of modern art. To focus only on art produced in these cities does not do justice to local traditions—which produced significant works of art, deeply rooted in their cultural context. This exhibition challenges the canon by examining Belgium. It reveals how the history of modern art looks different when viewed from the vantage point of this “marginal” center—hence the exhibition title, “A New Key.”

“This exhibition provides the exceptional opportunity to present a most well-chosen and well-considered collection of modern Belgian art for investigation by the leading scholars of the field in North America today. The results are groundbreaking, providing a new key to expanding our concept of modernisms at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

“These works are not only extraordinarily beautiful, but they offer a fascinating window into the development of modern art. Belgium is clearly revealed as an indispensable font of Expressionism and Surrealism," said Boston College Fine Arts Department Professor Jeffery Howe, exhibition curator and leading American historian of modern Belgian art.

The exhibition provides a choice and rich sampling that epitomizes the extraordinary accomplishments of Belgian artists from the late nineteenth century to World War II. During this period, which defined modernism, Belgium was transformed by artistic breakthroughs and cataclysmic political and social upheavals. American audiences have had few opportunities to see Belgian art of this era, and many of the artists featured in the exhibition are rarely displayed in the United States.

Public Opening Celebration

On Tuesday, February 13, the public is invited to an opening celebration, which is free of charge and will be held at the Museum at 7 p.m. The event will feature music from the artists’ circles. Howe shared copies of sheet music connected to Magritte—which he found in Brussels last summer—with Sebastian Bonaiuto, director of bands at Boston College. Bonaiuto arranged the music for modern instruments, and the results will be premiered by a small ensemble under his direction. The public event will be preceded, on February 9, by a black-tie celebration for invited guests. It will include remarks by Henry and Françoise Simon, with an official opening by His Excellency Dominique Struye de Swielande, Ambassador of Belgium to the United States. [NOTE: To arrange attendance at the Feb. 13 event, call 617-552-8587 or email].

A New Key: Modern Belgian Art from the Simon Collection

The exhibition comprises 48 paintings, one drawing and four sculptures, which were chosen from a large collection to exemplify the national character of Belgian art.

These works have never before been displayed together, and as a group, they tell the story of Belgian artistic vision, doubt and perseverance through the six themes in which they will be grouped in the exhibition: Looking Outward: Landscape and Village Scenes; Work and Labor; The View from Within: Interiors and Still life; The Human Dimension: The Figure; The Impact of the First World War; The Fantastic and Carnivalesque.

The exhibition will explore how each of these themes reveals questions of meaning and identity that haunted Belgian artists during this period. Belgium has an unusually complicated history, and it often seems impossible to separate historical facts from ideology and national myths, according to organizers. But they note that “works of art may provide an ideal model for the nature of historical interpretation, because of the importance of subjective factors.”

A New Key, they explain, seeks to understand modernism more fully by exploring Belgium through its art as a place—rooted in history and geography—where issues of political identity and linguistic identity have been particularly challenging. “The exhibition,” organizers note, “will introduce Americans to the extraordinary visual virtuosity of one of the world’s great artistic traditions, with which they are largely unfamiliar.”

The Simon Collection

The Simon Collection is acknowledged by scholars to be the finest collection of modern Belgian art outside Belgium. The collection was formed over the last 30 years by Henry and Françoise Simon, who focused their collecting entirely on Belgian art.

In 2003-2004, a different and larger selection of works from this collection, which included contemporary abstract art, was shown in major museums in Brussels (Musée d’Ixelles) and Laren, the Netherlands (Singer Museum); in 2005-2006 the exhibition traveled to four Japanese museums (Fuchu Art Museum, Shimonoseki City Art Museum, Sakura City Museum of Art, Akita Senshu Museum of Art) under the patronage of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium.

“This is the first time that our collection is exhibited in North America and the first time at an academic institution. We are particularly pleased that it takes place at the McMullen Museum. This will allow many young people, the students at Boston College, to see the exhibition and become acquainted with Belgian art,” said Henry Simon.

Exhibition Catalogue

A fully illustrated catalogue, edited by Howe, will accompany the exhibition. The essays, written by a distinguished group of scholars of the modern world, examine:

  • A New Key: Modernism and National Identity in Belgian Art
    Boston College Fine Arts Department Professor Jeffery Howe, exhibition curator
  • Pauvre Belgique: Collecting Practices and Belgian Art in and outside Belgium
    Hampshire College Professor of Art History Sura Levine
  • Ensor’s Parrot
    Boston College Fine Arts Department Adjunct Associate Professor Katherine Nahum
  • “Laughter Liberates us from Fear”—The Place of Carnival in our Lives
    Boston College Honors Program Adjunct Associate Professor Susan A. Michalczyk
  • Freudian Themes in the Symbolist Work of George Minne
    Boston College Fine Arts Department Associate Professor Claude Cernuschi
  • Occupied Belgium: The Art of War
    Boston College Fine Arts Department Professor John J. Michalczyk

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and the international community. The Museum displays its notable permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The 10th anniversary of the formal reopening of the Museum was marked in 2003-04.

The Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 in honor of the late parents of the late Boston College benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, at 140 Commonwealth Avenue. During this exhibition, hours are: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Closed on the following dates: April 6, 8 and 16; May 28; July 4, 2007.

Exhibition tours will be given every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Free group tours arranged upon request; call (617) 552-8587. For directions, parking and information on accompanying public programs, visit or call (617) 552-8100.

An audio tour of the exhibition, written and narrated by Howe and other contributors to the exhibition catalogue, will be available on iPods in the Museum free of charge, and on the Museum website for downloading free of charge.

Exhibition Organizers

The exhibition has been organized by The McMullen Museum of Art, and has been underwritten by Boston College with major support from SV Life Sciences and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum and additional support from the Society of Friends of Belgium. This exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


The Society of Friends of Belgium in America operates under the auspices of
the Ambassador of Belgium to the United States and the Consul General of Belgium in New York.



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