Musée Mariemont: From elegant Chateau to leading art collection
Text: Pierre Antoine Zahnd | Photos: Musée Royal de Mariemont
An hour south of Brussels, the Musée Royal de Mariemont is one of Belgium’s cultural gems. The product of one man’s passion for history, it gathers a collection ranging from Greek and Roman Antiquity to the Far East, while also giving Belgian heritage pride of place. With a collection of some 100,000 pieces, Mariemont ought to be on the list of any culture lover going through Belgium.
A world-class institution with a unique history, Mariemont stands on the grounds of the three successive Chateaux, all since destroyed. Its last owner, Raoul Warocqué, used his family’s industrial fortune to further develop Mariemont and fill it with a vast artistic and historical collection, which he passed on to the Belgian state on his death in 1917. On Christmas Day of 1960, the Chateau caught on fire, but the collection was saved thanks to the prompt intervention of the villagers and the Mariemont staff. The current Museum, designed by Roger Bastin and reopened in 1975, is a prime example of Brutalist architecture, and still harbours the same ideals of collective culture first exemplified by Raoul Warocqué in his lifetime.
Warocqué’s ample collection reflects his wide-ranging interests and expresses his aim to strike a balance between universality and local identity. In the same afternoon, visitors can admire an original Rodin sculpture, a three-metre, five-tonne statue of Cleopatra from Alexandria, and a wealth of Chinese and Japanese art – including a tea pavilion imported from Kyoto, where tea ceremonies are regularly held. But Mariemont also represents Warocqué’s keen interest in Belgian culture, showcasing regional archeology and porcelain among other artefacts.
Set in a sumptuous, 45-hectare natural park, poised between scientific excellence and accessibility, Mariemont remains a place of knowledge and wonder for the aficionado and the casual museum-goer alike. Alongside the permanent collection, Mariemont offers modern, interactive exhibitions, immersing audiences into Ancient Egypt or the Samurai, among others. Until 24 May, 2020, the exhibition Bye Bye, Future! The Art of Time Travelling will re-examine our past, via contemporary artists, to shed a new light on the future.
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