Culture minister orders check on sale of Bruegel artworks


Sven Gatz is hoping to keep two forgotten paintings in Flanders after they were discovered in private collections during recording for a TV show

‘Beautiful museum pieces’

Two forgotten paintings by Jan Bruegel the Younger could remain in Flanders following an intervention by culture minister Sven Gatz.

The artworks, which have been in private collections for decades, came back into the public gaze this week thanks to the TV programme Stukken van Mensen (pictured). The series, broadcast on Vier, challenges a group of dealers to value and bid on various collectors’ items. The two Brueghel paintings, which are reportedly in excellent condition, are both cityscapes and date from the 17th century. 

The four art dealers on the TV show were astonished to see the two Bruegels. “I’ve been in the industry for about 45 years, and I’ve only handled a Bruegel once,” said Mon Bernaerts of the eponymous auction house in press reports.

Jan Bruegel the Younger belonged to the third generation of artists in the Bruegel family. His grandfather was Pieter Bruegel the Elder, known for his scenes of peasant life, and his father was Jan Bruegel the Elder, known as Velvet Bruegel for the richness of his painting. His son, who lived and worked in Antwerp, followed the same Baroque style. 

In the course of the programme an offer of €1.5 million was made, but this fell short of the €2 million sought by the anonymous owner. Negotiations are now said to be under way with a foreign collector.

The show also caught the attention of Gatz, who called in experts from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp to assess the paintings. If their view is positive, the matter will be referred to the committee that decides which items of national heritage are masterpieces. The final decision on whether or not to buy them then rests with the Flemish government.

“At first glance these are indeed beautiful museum pieces,” a spokesperson for Gatz told VRT, “but then Bruegel’s descendants produced a lot of paintings, a lot of which have found their way into public collections in Flanders.”

Photo courtesy Vier