Art lover Stuart Forster laces up his boots to take a look at Bruegel’s Eye in Belgium’s countryside.
Bruegel’s Eye: Reconstructing the landscape is an exhibition of 15 art installations in and around Dilbeek, near Brussels, in Belgium. The exhibition celebrates the life and works of artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who depicted elements of the Pajottenland’s landscape in his works.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this article, travelled to Brussels from Newcastle International Airport as a guest of Loganair, which has not reviewed nor approved this post.
On a breezy spring afternoon, I ambled towards the Church of Sint-Anna-Pede after a lengthy lunch featuring a couple of glasses of the tangy lambic beer for which the Pajottenland district is famed.
Despite the passage of 451 years, the spire of the church was instantly recognisable from Bruegel’s painting The Blind Leading the Blind, which features six sightless men stumbling through the countryside. He completed the work in 1568, a year prior to his death.
Bruegel’s Eye in the Belgium’s countryside
Bruegel’s Eye is one of several exhibitions being held in and around Brussels during 2019 to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the artist’s death. The near circular route of Bruegel’s Eye runs for seven kilometres, between the Church of Sint-Anna-Pede and the watermill at Sint-Gertrudis-Pede. The mill appears in at the bottom right of The Magpie on the Gallows, another work completed by Bruegel during 1568.
“It’s about how he looked at the landscape more than 450 years ago,” said Stefan Devoldere, the curator of Bruegel’s Eye. He went on to compare the print maker and painter to a modern Photoshop artist who selects elements from a scene to create an imaginary landscape.
“It’s an ode to Bruegel,” said the curator, explaining that Pieter Bruegel the Elder “looked at and observed the landscape in a specific way.”
“I conceived the idea of the exhibition, starting from the two buildings that figure in the paintings. I said let’s have a walking route that passes by the buildings and the landscape that inspired Bruegel…the idea is to discover the landscape and enjoy it,” he said.
“It’s worth visiting at the start of the summer and later, as the landscape will change and it’ll be a totally new experience,” suggested Mr Devoldere.
“You can visit to see the landscape and to taste it: there are still several breweries that produce local geuze beer,” he added.
Bruegel’s bird’s eye perspective
Pieter Bruegel the Elder invented a new way of showing landscapes: he was the first artist to depict an elevated bird’s eye view of countryside. He added Alpine mountains to scenes featuring buildings and landscapes that could be found in Flanders during the time of the Renaissance.
“He never painted his landscapes true to life. He used elements and composed. He manipulated and transformed the landscapes. That idea, which is specific to Bruegel, was also an inspiration to several landscape architects and artists to do installations along its course,” explained Mr Devoldere.
Not all the works are visual. Author and actor Josse de Pauw wrote five texts that can be listened to in Dutch and French along the route.
I couldn’t help wondering if the walkway along a four-metre high thuja hedge at the exhibition’s visitor pavilion was a homage to the elevated viewpoint so often depicted in Bruegel’s works. The pavilion is a product of the Rotor cooperative design practice and features recycled materials.
Photography by Filip Dujardin
Inside of the church depicted in The Blind Leading the Blind I chatted with Filip Dujardin. His work TOPOgraphie, a panoramic landscape, is displayed in front of the altar. The photoshopped work features verdant pastures and rocks that he photographed along the River Maas near Dinant.
“In the background you’ll see an urban landscape, the Brussels skyline, defined by some key buildings. The green cupola is from the Basilica in Koekelberg. Then you see the Finanzbouw, this blue building, and then you see more recent developments — also the Cathedral of Brussels popping in the middle,” explained Mr Dujardin.
Koen van den Broek’s Exit
Since Bruegel walked the earth, pockets of the Pajottenland have been transformed by industry, housing and the infrastructure that facilitates modern life, such as road and electricity pylons. Elsewhere sheep and lambs graze in fields next to cows and ponies.
Under a railway viaduct I met Koen van den Broek next to his work Exit.
“We had this idea in a painting about a window, about how you look through something,” said the artist looking towards his work.
“John Baldessari once told me if you have a painting and its thick enough, and starts on the floor, it’s a sculpture. I tried it and it didn’t work. So I thought about a deconstructed painting. It was a painting which I did about 20 years ago. It’s a youth hostel in San Pedro, California. You look through a hallway and see the railing of a sportsfield and people playing basketball with the ocean behind,” explained Mr van den Broek, who drew a parallel between Bruegel’s transposition of Alps from Italy into the Flemish landscape with his own concept of bringing California back to Belgium.
Biscuit box pretty landscapes
Bruegel’s artworks are by no means only familiar to an art-loving public in Belgium.
“The work of Bruegel is part of the general culture and part of the low culture. Everyone has memories of the farmer and feast paintings that were depicted on biscuit boxes and the like,” said Stefan Devoldere after we viewed the mill at the end of the route.
“This project, for me, was a discovery of all the other things that Bruegel is — the intelligence of his compositions and the landscapes in his paintings. People like Bruegel’s work a lot and identify with it as typically Flemish or Belgian culture and its joie de vivre. At the same time he really is a very interesting painter who invented the snow landscape as a genre and played an important role in developing the landscape as a genre of painting,” added the curator of Bruegel’s Eye.
Bruegel’s Eye, known as De Blik van Bruegel in Flemish, will be exhibited in the countryside of Flanders’ Pajottenland district until 31 October 2019.
The free-to-visit exhibition features 15 installations in the countryside around Dilbeek. Dilbeek lies just seven kilometres west of the Belgian capital.
The Pajottenland region, half-an-hour’s drive from central Brussels, is crisscrossed with marked footpaths and cycling trails.
Getting to Brussels
Stuart travelled to Brussels from Newcastle International Airport as a guest of Logainair. Direct flights between Newcastle and Brussels have a duration of 85 minutes. See the Loganair website for information about seat availability and fares, and to see all of the routes served by the company.
Trains run every 10 minutes between the railway station at Brussels Airport and central Brussels. Tickets can be booked online from the Belgian Train website.
Stuart Forster, the author of this article, is a freelance writer. If you’d like to commission a feature or sponsor a post on Go Eat Do, please get in touch by calling 07947 587136 or sending a message via the contact page.
Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography, based in North East England and available for commissions.
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