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Bastelaer, René van [Désiré]

Date born:  July 22, 1865

Place Born:   Charleroi, Belgium

Date died:  April 11, 1940

Place died:   Brussels, Belgium

Bruegel specialist; Curator Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique. René van Bastelaer was the son of Désiré Alexandre Henri van Bastelaer (1823-1907), a distinguished pharmacist, chemist, and archaeologist. His mother was Elisa van der Spiecke. Van Bastelaer obtained his BA degree from the Faculty of Arts of the Catholic University of Louvain. Rather than continuing his studies he trained in the studio of the history painter Antoine Van Hammée (1836-1903). Van Bastelaer was particularly attracted to engraving. In 1885 he became an intern at the Print Room of the Bibliothèque royale in Brussels under Henri Hymans. This was the beginning of his long career at this institution. In 1899 he was appointed deputy curator. In 1901-1902 the Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique published his award winning essay on the rivalry between engraving and photography, and the role of engraving in the future, La rivalité de la gravure et de la photographie et ses conséquences. Étude du rôle de la gravure en taille-douce dans l’avenir. Van Bastelaer was promoted to the position of curator in 1904, as the successor of Hymans. For several years he taught the history of engraving at the Institut supérieur d’Histoire de l’Art et d’Archéologie located in the Brussels Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts. He befriended the artist Jakob Smits (1855-1928), and practiced etching. Van Bastelaer held a special interest in Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In collaboration with Georges Hulin de Loo he published, in 1907, a monograph on this artist, Peter Bruegel l’ancien, son oeuvre et son temps, including a catalogue raisonné of his drawings, engravings, and paintings, the latter by Hulin de Loo. In 1908 Van Bastelaer published a separate catalog of the prints of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Les estampes de Peter Bruegel l’Ancien. In 1920 Van Bastelaer was elected corresponding member of the Académie royale de Belgique, Classe des Beaux-Arts. He retired in 1930 and was succeeded, in 1932, by Louis Lebeer. Van Bastelaer was a member of the Commission royale des Monuments et des Sites. In 1936 he was elected a member of the Académie royale de Belgique. He headed the Classe des Beaux-Arts in 1939.

Van Bastelaer’s pioneering work consists in the reevaluation of Bruegel, who in the two previous centuries was regarded most often as a minor painter of drolleries. Van Bastelaer’s monumental study was preceded by the critical contributions by Hymans in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1890-1891), “Pierre Bruegel le Vieux.” In 1905 Axel Ludvig Romdahl (1880-1951) published “Pieter Brueghel der Ältere und sein Kunstschaffen” in Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses. Van Bastelaer characterized Bruegel as a pure Flemish realist, a draughtsman and painter of popular and real-life scenes, living in close connection with his people. He also saw Bruegel as independent from foreign influences, with even his Italian journey having little impact on his art. Other scholars, however, including Max Dvořák, Charles de Tolnay, A. E. Popham, proposed a different approach to Bruegel’s art and person. Dvorak, for example, situated the artist in a broader artistic and cultural European context, in contact with Italian art and Mannerism, well beyond Flemish realism. In his last volume (1937) of Die Altniederländische Malerei, dedicated to Bruegel, Max J. Friedländer stated that the work of Van Bastelaer and Hulin de Loo was still the most reliable guide on Bruegel. Friedländer characterized Bruegel as the antithesis of the Renaissance artist. Van Bastelaer’s contribution to Bruegel research is given due consideration in the extensive overview of the Bruegel's reception by Édouard Michel, which he published in 1938 in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, “Bruegel et la critique moderne”. The question of the Bruegel reception was later discussed by Fritz Grossmann. MD

Home Country:   Belgium

Sources:  Friedländer, Max J. Pieter Bruegel. Early Netherlandish Painting vol. 14. Leyden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1976, pp. 12, 41; Michel, Édouard. “Bruegel et la critique moderne”  Gazette des Beaux-Arts 19 (1938): 27-46;  Mauquoy-Hendrickx, Marie.  “René Van Bastelaer.” Biographie nationale de Belgique 33 (1965-66), p. 58-59; Lavalleye, Jacques. “Notice sur René Van Bastelaer.” Annuaire de l’Académie (1967); Grossmann, Fritz. Pieter Bruegel, Complete Edition of the Paintings. Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1973 (third revised edition); Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 506.

Bibliography:  La rivalité de la gravure et de la photographie et ses conséquences. Étude du rôle de la gravure en taille-douce dans l’avenir. Brussels: Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1901-1902; and Hulin de Loo, Georges. Peter Bruegel l’Ancien, son oeuvre et son temps: étude historique suivie des catalogues raisonnés de son œuvre dessiné et gravé, par R. van Bastelaer et d’un catalogue raisonné de son œuvre peint, par Georges H. de Loo. Brussels: G. van Oest, 1907; Les estampes de Peter Bruegel l’Ancien. Brussels: G. van Oest, 1908; Les dessins de Pierre Bruegel l’Ancien appartenant au Cabinet des estampes de la Bibliothèque royale de Belgique: album de reproductions. Brussels: Les Presses de C. van Cortenbergh, 1924; The Prints of Peter Bruegel the Elder. Catalogue raisonné. San Francisco, CA: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1992.

Subject's name: René van Bastelaer