Reopening of the Musée départemental de Flandres in Cassel

1. Facade of the Hotel of the Noble-Cour
After restoration
Musée départemental de Cassel
Photo : Didier Rykner

The Musée de Flandres in Cassel, closed for thirteen years, reopened its doors to the public last 29 October.
A large budget has been allotted for acquisitions (see news item, in French, of 4/4/10) and restoration of works, while the building in which it is housed, a very beautiful 16th century private residence, has been rehabilitated (it was in disastrous condition) and refurbished (ill. 1).
The success of the operation is quite visible, although only relatively so. Confirming it is the museological program, designed by the establishment director, Sandrine Vézilier, as well the new museum layout due to one of today’s most accomplished specialists, Didier Blin. We have some reservations however, concerning part of the building’s restoration, and most of all, about the solutions chosen for installing the air conditioning.

2. David II Teniers (1610-1690)
Saint Anthony Visiting Saint Paul
Oil on canvas - 84.5 x 118.5 cm
Private collection, in deposit at the Musée de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

Since it cannot present major masterpieces or even a complete panorama of Flemish painting, a choice was made to divide the works in various thematic sections with somewhat esoteric titles : “Submission and anger”, “Between heaven and earth”, Moderation and excess”, “Ostentation and derision”. The concept works well, better than expected since this is after all an arbitrary division. Also, the idea of scattering a few particularly well-chosen contemporary works in among the hang in no way detracts from it. This is a museum of Flemish art, theoretically with no specifically designated time limits and this mix of genres is therefore perfectly legitimate here, especially since it is done in good taste.
The works are of uneven quality (there are many “after”, “workshop” or “circle of”), but a good number are really interesting. Several are on deposit from private collections (ill. 2), thus rounding out a collection which is still a bit small.

3. Salle de la Châtellenie
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

4. Francis Tattegrain (1852-1915)
The Casselois at the Swanp in Saint-Omer
Losing Against the Duke Philippe the Good
, 1887
Oil on canvas - 350 x 673 cm
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

7. Flandres, XVIIth
Polychrome oak
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Jacques Quecq d’Henripret

Although the floor plan, while maze-like, is coherent, the real problem comes from the air conditioning installation. In several of the rooms, it has been concealed behind the wooding paneling, as in the first one, called Salle de la Châtellenie, where windows are hidden behind cupboard doors used previously to hold parish archives (ill. 3). The second room, presenting a large painting by Francis Tattegrain (ill. 4) along with preparatory drawings lent by the Musée de Berck-sur-Mer and shown in a very ingenious piece of furniture with vertical drawers, is a bit empty ; the air conditioning is not really invasive here either nor has it spoiled a strange room with 18th century wood paneling which seems to have been plunked down in the middle of the larger space.
However, the gallery or “salle de la Justice”, decorated with fine sculpted woodwork is more problematic as it is not obvious that it has in fact been cut off by a fake ceiling to hide all of the pipes (ill. 5 and 6). The quality of this room deserved a better solution.

5. Salle de la Justice
In work
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

6. Salle de la Justice
After the reopening of the Museum
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

More sculptures can be found throughout the visit, including an Entombment in polychromatic stone (ill. 7). A second sculpted group of the same subject is in storage, but the works will be displayed on an alternate basis, to protect the colours, which would be damaged by being over exposed to the light… In which case it might be worthwhile covering the windows with anti-UV filters so that visitors are not deprived of either of these groups. The same can be said for the papier-mâché heads of the carnival figures, also presented on a rotating basis for the same reason. Isn’t the frequent handling just as dangerous for these works as the exposure to the light ? But by far the most surprising element (and we think the most incomprehensible for someone who does not live in a Northern city) is the fact that the “giants” (which we reproduced in our preceding article in French) are kept locked up and visitors can only see their silhouettes through a translucent window (ill. 8). Apparently, they can only be displayed during Carnival time. It seems that the inhabitants of Cassel do not want them out and that the parade through the streets is done with more recent, less fragile giants so that now the ones in the museum have become …museum objects.

8. Shadow of the Giant
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

9. Vincent Brunelle
Pedagogical workshops
Cassel, Musée départemental de Flandres
Photo : Didier Rykner

The façade overlooking the square has been restored very nicely by the chief architect, Vincent Brunelle. We will not be as enthusiastic in our praises of the back of the building. The same architect has built “pedagogical workshops” (ill. 9) in the only spot [1] authorized by the ABF. It would be speaking kindly to say these look more like something one would find at a ski resort, the kind of installations selling lift tickets, an impression which was particularly evident the day we visited after a light snowfall. The view overlooking the rolling landscape however is very beautiful.
The inaugural exhibition, Sensualité et volupté, is alas, rather disappointing. It highlights the female body in 16th and 17 century Flemish painting, an iconographic subject which is well adapted to the general public, but presents too many paintings of average quality, several of which display extremely optimistic attributions (notably an Adam and Even ascribed to Rubens). We hope we can expect something better next year with the promising exhibition on Flemish Baroque sculpture in French collections.

We do not wish to end on a negative note. The general aspect is quite pleasant and deserves a visit. There are too many endangered museums, especially in small cities for us to withhold warm commendations to the local authorities (in this case, the North department) for reviving this establishment which, without a doubt, much deserved it.

Under the supervision of Sandrine Vézilier, Musée départemental de Flandres Cassel. Catalogue des œuvres choisies, Silvana Editoriale, 2010, 205 p., 30€. ISBN : 9788836618057.

This is the catalogue of the works presented in the museum, including those from private collections on deposit there. The entries are interesting but the historical background at times might have been developed further. In the case of some objects, it is not clear (for example for the Teniers illustrated above), if they belong to the museum or not.

Sensualité et volupté. Le corps féminin dans la peinture flamande des XVIe et XVIIe siècles, Silvana Editoriale, 2010, 128 p., 24€. ISBN : 9788836618095.

Didier Rykner, mardi 16 novembre 2010


[1] There was a hangar there before.

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