Keeping Up With the Rubenses


Before you moan “oh no, not another museum story” and click away from me, let me say that this is more about architecture and somewhat more interactive than a typical museum visit. As much as I love loitering inside a museum on a dreary winter day, I’d much rather peek inside the homes and studios of artists. The voyeur in me loves to stand still in a room and look out the same window at the horizon that might have inspired a particular stroke of genius in a painting now gamely looking back at me from the wall of another museum. This is most evident at the Rene Magritte Museum in an ordinary suburb of Brussels.

I pop out of the Belgica metro stop and follow the signs for a ten-minute walk to an unassuming brownstone. Were it not for the sign outside, I probably would have walked right by Rue Esseghem 135:

Above the doorbell is a tiny sign…

…and on the door is a note asking visitors to ring the bell loudly; I assume this place doesn’t get too much foot traffic and I’m secretly hoping I will get to tour it all by myself. I get my wish. A young guide answers the door, takes my money, and hands me a few laminated pages describing the significance of each room. She quickly reminds me to note the fireplace…

bright blue walls…


and hat stand…

that all made an appearance in or impact on his works:


It’s unfortunate that each room is hidden in full view behind locked glass doors, but for a few long minutes in front of the kitchen where he once sat and worked,

I ask myself if he ever dreamed about the impact he’d have on art enthusiasts for generations to come. I follow the creaking staircase to the upper floors…

filled with memorabilia from his work in advertising and then his foray into the world of surrealism:


On the top floor of the house is a sun-filled studio staged with props found in many of his works. Except what seem like props to me today were just simple things he used in his every day life that happened to explode to life on canvas via his warped imagination.

It’s a simple home that he once rented with his lovely bride. They enlarged the space over time, and but for the contents of the home that would eventually become immortalized through his paintings, it is just that, a quiet house on a quiet street that roared with the talent within.


About a week later I stop by Rubenshuis, the Antwerp home of the artist Peter Paul Rubens, now fully restored to a beautiful museum.


But from the very front entrance,


to the cordoned off foyer,

I immediately realize that Magritte’s understated apartment is dwarfed by Rubens’ McMansion. Keeping up with the Rubenses won’t be easy. Rubens was a refined, well-read student and master of art in the 17th century.  He planned this home based on an Italian Renaissance palace. Tooled leather wallpaper covers the stately rooms, and as each room unfolds one after another, I am dizzy with the remarkable layout of the home.  Both warm and reserved in its elegance, it is hard to notice  the art inside this place because the structure is art itself. Photography of the interiors is prohibited so I’m only able to share the exterior shots of the portico, courtyard, and Baroque garden:


So the next time you think about art, consider looking up a museum built around the artist’s home. It’s amazing what goes on behind closed doors.


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