American philanthropist Bill Middendorf has helped return a painting to its former home. A 15th century portrait of Spanish noble Francisco de Rojas by Hans Memling, a Dutch artist who also spent a portion of his life in Belgium, was welcomed by the Bruges Museum recently. The donation was facilitated through and art programme set up by the King Baudouin Foundation US, which helped Middendorf navigate complex cultural, legal and tax regulations to bring the art across borders.
‘This is the first time we have received such an important donation’, said Till-Holger Borchert, artistic director of the Bruges Museums. Initially the work remains the property of KBFUS, but it is immediately being given on long-term loan to the Bruges Museums, which will later become its owner.
Middendorf, now aged 95, is an American who spent some of his professional career as a US Ambassador to the Netherlands. An enthusiastic art lover, he has donated several works of art to various institutions throughout his life. He acquired Memling’s painting of Francisco de Rojas in 2002, when it was put up for sale following the death of its previous private owner.
Through a relationship with Borchert, Middendorf explored how to return the painting to Belgium, eventually connecting with the KBF art programme.
‘The guidance we received from KBFUS was vital in making it possible for the painting to return to Bruges’, said Bolchert. ‘Thanks to the process that has been created by the KBFUS for donations of works of art, everything went smoothly. It is so amazing, I can hardly believe it is happening.’
King Baudouin Foundation US set up its art programme several years ago, to help donors in the US with various complicated regulations. The donation of Memling’s work is an example of the role KBF can play as a global philanthropic enabler, not only for donations of heritage items but also for offering guidance with international philanthropic donations to projects or organisations, whether the work is social, cultural, scientific or academic.
The painting can be viewed at the ‘Memling Now’ exhibition at St. John’s Hospital (Memling Museum) from 1 October 2020 to 1 February 2021. Afterwards it will remain as part of the Memling Museum’s permanent collection.