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The Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum and La Rade Building, Antwerp, Belgium

By alison - November 29, 2013 (Updated: November 18, 2014)

Eugeen Van Mieghem drew the people he saw everyday at Antwerp's port.

Eugeen Van Mieghem drew the people he saw everyday at Antwerp’s port.

You’d be forgiven for not recognising the name Eugeen Van Mieghem, but a small museum in Antwerp is diligently preserving the memory of this important local artist. The Van Mieghem Museum and the Art Nouveau ‘La Rade’, that houses it, are well worth adding to your list of places to visit in Antwerp.

A few months ago, Antwerp was celebrating the opening of the long awaited Red Star Line Museum, which documents the lives of European emigrants on a grand scale. If you are interested in the lives of the ‘steerage class’ passengers, as well as the people who made their living on the Antwerp docks, head to the tiny Van Mieghem Museum, for a unique look at these difficult lives.

Eugeen Van Mieghem wasn’t one of the 2.7 million emigrants to head for America on a Red Star Line ship, but he was integral to documenting their passage through Antwerp. Van Mieghem grew up in his mother’s inn, in Antwerp’s port district, and often helped his father load cargo onto the ships in the shipyard.

With paint and pastel, Van Mieghem documented the people he saw each day: families with small children dreaming of a better life in America, elderly men and women hunched over the burden of their meagre possessions, stevedores, sailors and even the prostitutes who worked the docklands.

Van Miegem's Pastels

Van Miegem’s Pastels were rough and raw but depicted the everyday people of the docks.

These were not the wealthy passengers travelling in Red Star Line’s luxury classes, who were photographed and documented in journals and letters. Van Mieghem’s subjects were the unacknowledged masses, forgotten in the endless flow of emigrants heading for America.

Van Mieghem’s work is raw and often dark and, despite being influenced by Van Gogh, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec, he wasn’t an immediate success in the art world. He was dismissed from the Antwerp Art Academy for his spontaneous approach to art and fell into several progressive cultural movements, including an anarchist group. He never stopped painting and drawing, however, and eventually he gained some acclaim. Twenty years after they kicked him out, Van Mieghem even became a professor at the Art Academy.

Acclaim came later on for Van Mieghem

Acclaim came later on for Van Mieghem and his work is an important slice of Antwerp’s history.

After WWII, interest in Van Mieghem’s work tapered off again, until one man discovered it and made its promotion his life’s work. Erwin Joos, a successful economist, gave up his career after purchasing a Van Mieghem painting. He became the director and curator of the Eugeen Van Mieghem Foundation, wrote books on Van Mieghem and his works, and collected more than 150 paintings and drawings to create the Van Mieghem Museum.

Erwin Joos is a Van Mieghem expert

Erwin Joos is a Van Mieghem expert and curator and director of the museum. Here he demonstrates how the artist often recycled his canvases.

The Museum itself is only one room, but the walls are tiled with Van Mieghem’s works, including the piece that began it all for Joos. It is only open on Sundays and Mondays, between 2 and 5 pm, but you can arrange a private tour, with one of the foundation members.

If you contact the foundation for a tour, it’s worth asking if you can visit the stunning ‘La Rade’ (not normally open to the public), owned by the Royal Belgian Ship-owners Federation, that sponsors the museum.

Inside La Rade, owned by the Royal Belgian Ship-owners Federation

Inside La Rade, owned by the Royal Belgian Ship-owners Federation
The stunning Art Nouveau tiled ceiling

The stunning Art Nouveau tiled ceiling
The beautiful La Rade building

The beautiful La Rade building

Because I was part of a group visit, I was lucky enough to have a look at this Art Nouveau masterpiece.

There is even a room housing memorabilia from Red Star Line, thanks to a donation from the 82-year-old Helena Vanloo, whose father worked on the ships.

The Red Star Line room in La Rade

The Red Star Line room in La Rade.

The Van Mieghem Museum offers a look at a different side of the Red Star Line emigration story. It is well worth visiting and learning about this important Antwerp artist.

The Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum
Ernest Van Dijckkaai 9, (in front of Het Steen castle)
2000 Antwerp

Open: Sunday and Monday: 2 – 5 PM (July, August and Holidays closed)
Guided visits (D/F/E) during the week by appointment (tel. 0497.10.14.73)

Photos of Van Mieghem’s art provided by the Van Mieghem Museum. 

Special thanks to Visit Flanders for sponsoring my visit to Antwerp. All opinions, as always, remain my own. 

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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4 comments

  1. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert December 4, 2013 at 21:44

    Must go and visit. Your penultimate photo reminds me of Leighton House in London.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison December 5, 2013 at 10:15

      Definitely see if you can arrange a tour with the director. He’s fantastic and an absolute expert on Van Meighem.

  2. Comment by tGENTeneeRke

    tGENTeneeRke December 13, 2013 at 03:37

    Very well told story about real live in Antwerp (Art Academy)!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison December 13, 2013 at 13:38

      So glad you enjoyed it!

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