Starting this February, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent will be exhibiting the largest show featuring Jan Van Eyck’s work that the world has ever seen. Art lovers and museum curators alike are excited to see this Western masters’ work all in one place. It’s been over a century since some of his pieces have been on display together and this exhibition isn’t one you want to miss.
Especially if you love oil paintings, art from the Netherlands, or are inspired by the old masters, Van Eyck is probably on your list of favorites. Here, for what some say is the last time, you’ll be able to see these incredible works of art live in the flesh.
Here, we’re talking about the artist Jan Van Eyck, what this exhibition will entail, and why people can’t stop talking about it.
Who is Jan Van Eyck?
Jan Van Eyck was a spectacular 15th-century Flemish painter who was a master of his craft. He used intricate detailing and dazzling colors, making his work some of the most groundbreaking in all of Western art history.Born around the year 1390 near Maastrict, Van Eyck was originally an illuminator, similar to an illustrator or calligrapher. However, by around 1422, he became an artist at the court of John of Bavaria, Count of Holland in The Hague.
He had an extraordinary handle on oil paints which allowed him to express his observations on the canvas in a way that his predecessors hadn’t been able to do before. This mastery paved the way for an entirely new aesthetic, combining realism with more vibrant colors.
Now, this aesthetic is known as Netherlandish painting and back in the 1400s, Van Eyck was commissioned for his signature style far and wide. He executed portraits and altars using such a unique, yet realistic approach to light and shadows that he has earned his title as a master painter.
But Van Eyck was not only just a magnificent painter. He was also a self-promoter and was one of the first to sign and date his work – something unfamiliar at the time.
Throughout his career, he would work as an artist for the elites such as Philip the Good, Duke of Burgandy (who was an incredibly powerful man) and took on countless religious commissions.
What pieces will be seen at Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution?
Of all the works that Van Eyck ever painted, there are only 20 pieces that still survived today. At the exhibition, over half will be shown.
In the mix, you’ll see eight exterior panels of Van Eyck’s masterful altarpiece, created with his brother Huburt for Ghent’s St. Bavo’s Cathedral called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from 1432. They have been recently restored and are truly magnificent to encounter. These panels will be the centerpiece of the exhibition and are not to be missed.
In fact, these panels haven’t been seen together since 1918 (over 100 years ago) in Berlin and it’s likely that the pieces will ever be lent out again. The panels have been dismantled and looted more than once – both in the Napoleonic era and by the Nazis during World War II – so it’s safe to say that they’re a must-see.
Another star piece that will be on display at the exhibit is the recently restored Portrait of a Man (Leal Souvenir) from 1432, on loan for the first time from the National Gallery of London since its acquisition in 1857. It was created during the same period that Van Eyck painted The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panels so seeing them together will be a treat.
One of the most enthralling parts of the exhibition is that all of Van Eyck’s work won’t be staged in a single room, but instead, throughout a series of sequential rooms. That way, they’re all experienced one after another in their own space which is said to give the viewer a whole new perspective on “primitive Flemish” art.
But, with only a few handfuls of work by Van Eyck to survive the centuries, what else will be on display? Although we wouldn’t blame the curators to leave it at that – after all, Van Eyck’s work is prolific in and of itself – the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent has more to offer.
In addition to the work of Van Eyck, the exhibition will also show over 100 pieces by his most esteemed peers and loyal followers.
Anticipation for this huge art event has been mounting and with the excitement comes a lot of chatter from the art world.
Till-Holger Borchert, Director of Musea Brugge collaborated on this exhibition and calls it “mindblowing” and Dr. Susan Foister, Deputy Director of the National Gallery calls Van Eyck’s ability “second to none.”
It’s surely going to be a thrilling event and it seems that leaders in the field of fine arts can hardly wait.
“The main aim of this exhibition is to share our enthusiasm for Van Eyck with as many people as possible,” says Till-Holger Borchert. “We are bringing to life his revolutionary technique as never before.”
Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution is on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent from February 1 to April 30, 2020.