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From the Museum of Fine Arts to BAM

100 years of a museum's history

An incredible donation by Henri Glépin

The history of BAM, formerly the Mons Museum of Fine Arts, begins at the end of the 19th century, with an incredible and all too rare patronage. In his will (April 1895), Henri Glépin bequeathed to the City of Mons the modest sum of one and a half million francs (equivalent to €25,000 – a king's ransom at the time). Part of this legacy was to be used to build a nursing home for the elderly, and the other part to set up a museum which would house his personal collections of old porcelain, earthenware, coins and medals.


The City was therefore responsible for setting up the museum. However, construction did not actually commence until 1908, in Rue Neuve (the same location as today), following plans drawn up the architect Rau, who taught at the Académie de Mons. The enormous building was completed in 1913 and inaugurated in the presence of King Albert I, Prince Léopold and Prince Charles. Consisting of five main rooms, it met the needs of the early 20th century, its space enabling the display of 200 exhibits over three floors. On the downside, the building had no archive space, no offices, no workshops and no laboratories.


The growth of the permanent collections and the development of exhibitions meant that the limited size of the premises was starting to be a problem. From 1929, proposals were made for extending the building, but in the end these plans were shelved. The insufficient space of the rooms forced the local authorities to fit out the room on the left flank of the museum as an archive and also to continue storing some pieces in a variety of local government buildings.


Jules Destree noted his impressions of the museum in his book "Mons et les montois"; these emphasise some of the recent thoughts on museum design, which we will return to further below: "The regional concept should be accompanied by educational goals. Children need to be attracted […], schoolchildren need to be able to buy a postcard of the artwork that inspired them the most, or which they learnt about […], there is a whole other area of education here that relates to a person's feelings […]."

1968 - 1970

In 1964, at the instigation of Abel Dubois, a future Burgomaster and the Deputy Burgomaster for Culture at the time, temporary exhibitions increasingly became the museum's central focus. The stated goal was to enable the public to become aware of trends in contemporary art. This policy drew attention again to the urgent need to extend and modernise the premises of the museum. Based on plans drawn up by the architect Vanderstraete, major works took place. The building work used the original structure as its basis. The renovated museum opened its doors on 19 September 1970. With the original façade now gone, the square-shaped museum had three floors, archives, a screening room, twelve rooms and 620 metres of picture rails.


Creation of an educational department named "Dynamusée" which, as recommended by Jules Destrée, helped make young people more aware of the arts.

1960-1990: Permanent collections

During this period, the museum's collections were representative of the schools of painting, engraving, sculpture and drawing from Mons, Hainaut and Belgium, primarily from the 19th and 20th century. From the 20th century, we can mention the Mons-based Nervia school, which formed around Buisseret and Anto Carte. In 1987, the legacy left by Armand Simon, which included more than a thousand drawings, enhanced the collections of Hainaut surrealism. But following the permanent transfer of the collection belonging to the French Community of Belgium, entitled "Fruits of a Passion", the museum presented an exceptionally comprehensive overview of international art from the 1960s to the 1990s, including a joyful blend of lyrical abstraction (Mortier, Lanskoy etc.), members of the Free Figuration and New Figuration movements (Atila, Baj, Bertini, DAvie, Chaissac, Weiss, Octave etc.), followers of Narrative Figuration (Adami, Klasen etc.) and New Fauves (Castelli, Bach etc.). This highly colourful collection presents the various aesthetic movements that developed during these three decades, emphasising another approach to figurative art, renouncing modernity, fighting for pop art, kitsch art, outsider art and above all a fun form of art made up of love, laughter and many different moods. A few years later, with the transfer of the Neirynck Collection by the Fondation Roi Baudouin – consisting primarily of works by Belgian painters (from Alechinsky to Zurstrassen) and covering the entire history of painting in Belgium – the museum confirmed its position as Wallonia's most comprehensive art museum specialising in the second half of the 20th century.


Despite major exhibitions of works by Anto Carte, Nervia, Gao Xingjian and Christian Dotremont, the museum's space was insufficient for its needs. New infrastructures fulfilling normal European standards for museums were needed to ensure that the Mons museum could continue to run its programmes successfully.

Mai 2003

The City of Mons launched a call for projects in order to review the museum's requirements and visitor facilities. Five of the firms submitting initial proposals were then invited to submit architectural plans. A jury of experts, including representatives both from local government and external organisations, accepted the plans proposed by Christian Menu, a Paris-based architect.

Juin 2004

Around the same time as this, for their final-year project, a group of students from the Faculté Polytechnique de Mons – Benjamin Bulot, Denis De Backer, Marta Dromaradska and Laetitia Cicirettiun – presented a project for a new museum of fine art. The students referred to this museum as "BAM". Authorship of the name therefore belongs entirely to them.

Janvier 2005

Start of construction work, scheduled to take two years. The project received 16% of its funding from the City of Mons, the remainder being provided by European "Phasing Out" subsidies of Objective 1 and the Walloon Region.

Mars 2007 : Inauguration of BAM

This resolutely modern architectural project combines function and balance, while emphasising transparency.The Parisian architect designed a window opening onto the world of art, beauty and creation. To achieve this, he decided on a light metal structure, with minimal use of concrete.The new layout of the rooms provided BAM with suitable facilities to exhibit prestigious works of art, complying with European standards for safety and security.Maximising the conservation efforts and offering ideal conditions for presentation were just as important as enabling visitors to discover an important chapter in the history of art.With this in mind, emphasis was placed on the goal of maximising the number of artworks that visitors would be able to see.The archives would therefore be transferred to another building expressly designed for this purpose, in order to increase the area available for exhibition space.BAM enables members of the public to take a new look at this remarkable, visitor-friendly exhibition space, at the same time as giving fine art lovers wonderful conditions in which to appreciate the works on show, with the works themselves benefiting from optimum conservation facilities.

Octobre 2013 : Reopening of BAM

The aim of the improvement works carried out at BAM in 2012 was to enable the museum to host exhibitions on an international scale, notably as part of "Mons 2015, European Capital of Culture". The reopening exhibition, dedicated to Andy Warhol, enabled BAM to show what an excellent cultural venue it had become.

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