18th century

In 1786, on the eve of the French Revolution, Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, Hendrik Frans de Cort and some other ‘fellows in the arts’, came together in Antwerp and formed a fellowship of artists. A few years later, in 1788, this fellowship wrote down the articles for an association, “De Konstenmaetschappye” (The Arts Society), which was founded shortly therafter. These megalomaniac artists, dreaming of restoring the once important age of P.P.Rubens, did not assume for a moment that their association would make history. The eighteenth century art scene could not have known that art would become more important in the next century for society than ever before. Art would shift to the centre of social life. “Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, founder of the association “De Konstenmaetschappye” (the Arts Society)”       “Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, founder of the association “De Konstenmaetschappye” (the Arts Society)”

19th century

The association, initially founded for purely artistic issues by artists, changed socially and became of social importance in the beginning of the 19th century, after the admission of members belonging to the local bourgeoisie. Accordingly the association renamed itself  “Maetschappij ter Ondersteuning van de Schoone Kunsten” (Society in Behalf of the Fine Arts). This new impetus came from B.P. Ommeganck and Willem Jacob Herreyns, the latter founded in 1772 the Academy of Arts in Malines. The official articles of 1816, in which bourgeoisie and artists made a social pact, defined the association’s actions during the entire 19th century. In 1817 the association is allowed to add the title Royal to its name because of its firmness in retrieving the art treasures stolen from Flanders by Napoleon. These were taken out of the Louvre with the help of Prussian soldiers. The retrieved works of art were brought together in a new founded museum. Florent Van Ertborn, an aristocrat and Chairman of the association between 1820 and 1826, donated by testament his collection of  ‘Flemish Primitives’ to this new museum. The association grew swiftly, partly due to the rise of nationalism and the search for the roots of the young Belgian nation. This was expressed in the aspiration to emulate the historical past in works of art. In this period triennial ‘Salons’ were established, which alternately took place in three cities. From 1830 to the end of the century, these exhibitions remained the only official Belgian exhibitions. In 1840 the salons began working together with artistic correspondents who recruited artists all over Europe (Düsseldorf, Vienna, Rotterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Munich, Prague, …). In 1860 St. Petersburg and New York were added to the list. “Baron Gustaaf Wappers, most important Romantic Belgian painter, who was the association’s artistic Chairman from 1844 to 1853”       “Baron Gustaaf Wappers, the most important Belgian painter of the Romantic era, was the association’s artistic Chairman from 1844 to 1853”         The distribution of power in the association drifted between artists and patrons. Arts in the 19th century were becoming increasingly and obviously committed to experience more quality in every work , but together with this evolution the artist began to deploy himself more and more free towards society. Starting from a kind of opposition towards society, progressive artists began adding a pictorial side to the political struggle. ‘Individualism’ was born. In the 19th century it came sporadic to clashes in the association between the artists and the patrons, who were mostly conservative and not inclined to innovation. Where as the activities at the beginning of the century were encouraged, were impelled by the romantic school, the power stayed in the same hands, in spit off the artistic and social innovations of the time. By passed by History, those in charge of the association were considered as artistic conservatives. Moreover there was a controversy in the press that lasted until the last decade of the century until ultimately society in general and the association opened itself for movements who stood for innovation towards the arts. This fact was also noticeable in the “Prix de Rome”, who was organized by the association, with involvement from high society personalities. This opening of the association to innovation in the arts took place under the chairmanship of Arthur Van den Nest, an alderman of Antwerp and MP. In the 19th century the association co-founded the “Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts”, increased the collection of this new museum and assisted in the relocation of the museum in 1890 to the neighbourhood “South”, its present location in Antwerp. “The Dock Worker”, by Constantin Meunier, 1885, was bought and donated to the Royal Museum of Fine arts Antwerp”       “The Dock Worker”, by Constantin Meunier, 1885, was bought and donated to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp”         DKO-350-Tent-Affiche_A0_p1_test       “The long hall in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp”

20th Century

During the 20th century, which is divided by two world wars in three periods, the association placed itself in the field of art mediation. Artworks were purchased to complement the museum collections (“Crazy Violence” by Rik Wouters, Citizens of Calaisby Rodin, “the Dock Worker” by Constantin Meunier, …). Rik WoutersPurchase of “Crazy Violence” (1912) by Rik Wouters . This work of art was donated to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp” The artists, core members of the association advised leading members of the Antwerp bourgeoisie in the creation and enlargement of their collections. In this way many upcoming artists were much helped in the development of their careers. During the inter war period the articles of association were adapted to be in accordance with modern legislation. In 1936 it was decided to alter the existing association in to a non-profit association with shareholders. All the local notables of that time sat on the Board of Directors. It was probably then the most prestigious assembly of its time. Cléomir Jussiant, an important art collector and patron, was president from 1938 to 1957 and he was able to give the association a dominant character in the perception of art in the city of Antwerp. After World War II the Belgian economy was so shaken up that the association could no longer maintain the monopoly it had held previously. Meritocracy brought a new class to power that wanted to explore new cultural horizons. Several new patronage associations made an entrance. At that time the RSEFA was no longer active nationwide. The last ‘salon’ was held in 1951 and from then on only retrospectives were organized. The art world was becoming more global, more international, but the existing non–profit association as such did not respond to this change. The individual freedom of the individual artist increased and this freedom became proportionally threatening to the social status of the bourgeoisie. In response to this the shareholders kept their grip on the activity of the association, which made its influence wane further. The association subsidized the travels of upcoming artists and kept on buying,  but limitedworks made by young artists. In 1976, the association organized a retrospective and became involved in a new non-profit association to support the Academy (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp), called “VrikA” or “Vriendenkring” (the Academy’s Circle of Friends). In this way the association supported financially the social action of this new undertaking. In 1995 (after the death of L.Gyselinck) a notary wanted to abrogate the association, but the file ended up on the desk of the newly appointed director of the Royal Academy of Fine arts Antwerp, Bart’d Eyckermans, who refused to sign the dissolution of the association. He obtained the admission of a new member in to the association, Dr. Guido Persoons, and convinced a jurist, Dr. Jan Verwijver, who was the secretary of the association between 1961 and 1972, to give anew his backing to the association. The association was adapted to the latest legislation concerning non-profit associations and the existing official articles were rewritten. An action plan for the association to give it a new start towards the 21st century was implemented. Foto5-Prijsuitreiking Komask in het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten te Antwerpen   “The award ceremony of the contest “Portrait 2010” at the “Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp”. Speech by Dr. Guido Persoons, the Chairman of the RSEFA” 

21st Century

The association attached itself to the “Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp” and now competitions are organized annually to encourage young upcoming artists. Today, in the second decade of this century, the will to focus on not only national, but also international cultural activities is reactivated. The four Royal Art Academies of Belgium (Ghent, Brussels, Liege and Antwerp) and royal art academies abroad, such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and The Hague, work together in organizing an international contest to encourage and promote young upcoming artists, whose works are judged by an international jury of curators and established artists. This inter-academic contest is organized annually and so reinstated the association back into its former position as the national promoter of the fine arts. Foto6-Vernissage prijsuitreiking wedstrijd Tekenen XL     “Proclamation of the winners of the contest “Drawing Xl” inside the new Antwerp court of justice”

In memoriam

Guido Persoons, chairman of the RSEFA from 1996-2014. Portret-Guido-2On February 21 2014, Prof. Dr Guido Persoons died unexpectedly at the age of 82. Guido Persoons was born on April 8, 1931 in Borgerhout as the son of the Antwerp conductor, composer and music teacher Gust Persoons. His mother, Nora Schiltz, was a talented musician and came from a family where everything was marked by art and culture. It was no coincidence that after his secondary school studies at St. Stanislas College in Berchem the young Guido enrolled at the University of Louvain for musicology, the education he would later combine with art history, despite the unsuccessful attempts of his parents to make him choose for a “serious” university education with job security. After a few assignments such as the printing industry and as reservist in the Belgian navy, he was appointed in 1962 as a scientific librarian at the National Higher Institute and Royal Academy of Fine Arts and at the national Higher Institute of Architecture and Urbanism in Antwerp. From this position, that he occupied until 1995, he was committed to the expansion and professionalism of the selection of the library and the scientific inventory of the collection including the precious St. Luke archive. All those years he was also inextricably linked with the ins and outs of the Academy, by organizing numerous exhibitions on the history of this institution and its professors, for which he wrote the catalogs that usually grew into in-depth scientific monographs. The special catalog about 100 years National Higher Institute of Fin Arts, which was published by him in 1985, is in this context noteworthy. From the Academy he also maintained frequent contacts with academic libraries, museums and art academies across Europe. In 1968 Guido Persoons gained his PhD thesis on the organs and organists of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp 1500-1650. This was the start of an exciting academic career at the University of Louvain. As a lecturer at the department of musicology he kept organizing courses in music sociology, music and mass media, as well as specific teacher training for musicologists until his retirement in 1996. With his numerous publications on musical construction, music press, composers and visual artists he strove explicitly towards documentation and capturing cultural life in Belgium, with the focus on Antwerp, for later generations. He was also editor of the jubilee book at the centenary of the Royal Flemish Conservatory in 1998. That same passion for preserving cultural heritage in general was reflected in his active involvement in the Royal and Provincial Commission for Monuments and Landscapes and his actual involvement as a board member in a wide range of scientific and cultural associations, including the Association of Antwerp Bibliophiles, the Art History Institute of Antwerp and the Royal Society of Music. He had a special relationship with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts. He would continue to occupy the position of chairman of this society with great enthusiasm till his death in 1996.