The Absinthe Drinker by Léon Spillaert. I consider this to be one of the most striking works of art in the collection held by the King Baudouin Foundation’s Heritage Fund. It is a work that allows you to stand or sit in front of it, have a look, breathe, have another look, and lose all sense of time and space. All your to do lists and deadlines are forgotten.
The Belgian painter Spillaert went to the 1900 world exhibition in Paris, where he discovered the work of foreign artists and took inspiration from them. The Absinthe Drinker is usually on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, but this summer the work can be seen at the exhibition ‘From Tiepolo to Richter, dialogue in Europe’. It is surrounded by 100 other great works from collections held by 14 foundations across Europe, including Hunter on Horseback by Tiepolo, the Bust of Victor Hugo by Rodin , Street Scenes by Kirchner and Abstract Motif by Nordström.
All these works of art, from oil paintings on wooden panels from the fifteenth century to twentieth century abstract works, tell the same story about how art does not worry too much about borders, how artists and their works have travelled and still travel around Europe, and how heritage has brought Europeans together down the centuries. These works show how culture leads to encounters between people from different groups and backgrounds as it allows them to share experiences together.
These works of art could have been hanging in a luxurious penthouse or ended up in a safe somewhere, but now everyone is able to enjoy them. Thanks to a number of foundations that not only engage in social or societal work but also work to preserve our artistic heritage. And making it accessible to all: by lending it to museums, research institutions and so on. That commitment is the real subject of this exhibition. It is a commitment that the foundations involved often share with philanthropists: they recognise each other’s conviction that we are only temporary ‘curators’ of our cultural heritage which future generations will inherit from us.
I have the good fortune to work in Brussels, where the King Baudouin Foundation is based. This year Brussels is the host city for the annual conference of the European Foundation Centre, and also for this exhibition set up by the King Baudouin Foundation together with 14 other foundations, as a tangible contribution towards the European Year of Cultural Heritage.
If you want to find me this summer, I will be in front of The Absinthe Drinker. And I am buying a blue hat.
Sabine Deboosere is Head of the communication team at King Baudouin Foundation.
The exhibition ‘From Tiepolo tot Richter, dialogue in Europe’ opened a few days before the EFC Conference and will be on until the end of September at the Art & History Museum in central Brussels. It is an initiative by the King Baudouin Foundation, in collaboration with Fondazione Cariplo, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca, Fundação Oriente, the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, “La Caixa” Foundation, Olbricht Foundation, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Saastamoinen Foundation, Svenska Kulturfonden and Vereniging Rembrandt. The exhibition marks the occasion of the general assembly of the European Foundation Centre, which is held in Brussels this year.