On 10 June 2022, the 18th-century farmstead of Felix De Boeck (1898-1995) will open its doors in grandeur. A special moment, when the entire museum site is relaunched as a heritage ensemble, with a unique offering of art, nature and heritage, inspired by the farmer-painter. An Art & Eco Museum, where the Felix farmstead is the meeting point where art and nature find each other: from the painter’s studio to the exhibitions on abstract art in the museum, from the life environment of farmer Felix to the precious nature reserve, a biodiversity project where the inhabitants of Drogenbos are once again engaged in ecological agriculture.
Felix De Boeck left a double bequest in his will, of his oeuvre and of his living environment, in which he explicitly stated that his life and work would be shown. In 1994 the Felix De Boeck Museum was built, and in 2021 the restoration of the farmstead was completed. And last year, in cooperation with the design bureau Bailleul, an experiential route was developed in the farmstead, so that visitors could become acquainted with the living environment and life values of this intriguing man with a pipe and a long beard, who combined farming life with an artistic existence. This is what the museum is doing now too, with exhibitions and an ecological and sustainable mindset, nurtured bottom-up, by local participation.
An Art & Eco Museum, a positioning that is visualised in our new logo: the X remains, the crossroads between art and ecology, an aspiration that has been supported by a sustained policy vision for many years. The museum and the nature reserve meet in the farmstead, which during Felix’s lifetime was also a meeting place for many an artist, politician and fellow villager. Felix De Boeck remained on his farm, but the world came to him.
So did the composer E.L.T. Mesens, a well-liked friend who composed a piano work for Felix in 1921. In the front room of the farmstead is the old piano of Marieke, Felix’s wife, who played this typical 1920s music during the experience trail. The piece was recorded by pianist Jef Neve, and is also our museum tune.
Felix was part of the ‘spontaneous’ generation of the post-war roaring twenties, both artistically and ecologically. He painted his first abstract works in 1919. This constructivist generation not only sought a new pictorial language, a tabula rasa, but also a new revolutionary society, inspired by the cooperative idea, which Felix also translated into his agricultural activities. He was a member of the Brussels avant-garde art movement around the weekly magazine 7 Arts and of the Kring Moderne Kunst (Circle of Modern Art) in Antwerp, and collaborated on their battle magazines 7 Arts and Het Overzicht, which made a passionate plea for the ‘Plastique pure’, for the application of geometric abstraction to all the arts.
These turbulent 1920s years are very recognisable a century later. So are Felix’s life values. That is why farm life and the cooperative idea are also included in the museum’s activities. Ecological vegetable and herb gardens were laid out for and by the inhabitants of Drogenbos. Every year during spring and summer there are cows in the old standard orchard, which are looked after by the municipal schools and the inhabitants. And the local involvement is strong in the further development of the nature reserve and the heritage activities that are relaunched in and around the farmstead.
In the museum, we show art exhibitions of Felix, of his contemporaries and of other Belgian abstract artists, with a particular focus on the Interbellum, for which the museum has built up specific expertise through scientific research.
For the reopening of the farmstead, an entire floor was dedicated to Felix’s oeuvre, with the exhibition ‘Repetition and reuse in the oeuvre of Felix De Boeck’. Throughout his life, Felix De Boeck returned to the same themes. The sun, for example, was a source of fascination: first naturalistic, then symbolic-religious, to end in a kind of mystical pictogram. Each time, he takes up the same theme, but translates it with the pictorial grammar that is his own at the time. A new exhibition space gives an insight into the long life of the farmer-painter, with an (art) historical context and photos, old catalogues and correspondence from the rich museum archives.
On the upper floor, the exhibition ‘From private to public’ is currently running, showing a selection from the private collection of patron Thomas Neirynck, who donated his collection to the King Baudouin Foundation. From post-war art to the Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s, from CoBrA and lyrical abstraction to geometric abstract artists of the second generation, which gave the first generation to which Felix belonged the recognition it deserved.
The old standard orchard was protected as a village sight, just like Felix’s farm. Felix De Boeck went against the current and did not replace the old orchard of his (grand)parents with more productive low trunk fruit trees, out of his deep respect for the rhythm of nature and for tradition. And these trees still give a rich harvest, which we share with the inhabitants of Drogenbos during the picking moments.
Felix himself lived almost in autarchy and had a small mixed farm, with chickens, cows, vegetable garden and orchard. Small-scale, but ecological, and in the conservative view of Felix, who stubbornly refused to go along with ‘progress’, was good. Today, this form of circular agriculture is an example to which regenerative agriculture aspires in order to put a stop to the excesses of industrialisation.
The museum offers local agro-ecological initiatives to make the population aware of Felix’s way of life and of farming. And to maximise the value of the precious 5 hectares of our museum garden from the point of view of biodiversity. In this we are supported by the local actors and advised by Regional Landscape Pajottenland & Zennevallei and experts from the field, such as Bokrijk, CAG, ‘t GROM and Werkplaats Immaterieel Erfgoed.
The experience trail in the restored farmstead of Felix De Boeck, with audio tour and scenographic accents, developed by design agency Bailleul, gives an insight into the life of the painter-farmer. A public access that gives an extra dimension to the artistic story that is presented in the museum around abstract art and to the ecological story that is elaborated in a participative way in the nature domain. A return in time, 100 years back, where visitors can be inspired by the life and work of Felix De Boeck. A moment of nostalgia for the older visitors, a discovery for children, an intergenerational experience for families.
The local heritage is expressed here. Drogenbos was traditionally the fruit and vegetable garden of our capital. Around the Senne valley, the local Geuze beer was brewed. In the nature reserve, a new orchard was planted with Schaerbeek cherry trees, an old variety that today’s Geuze brewers are eagerly looking for. In the cellar of Felix, himself a notorious Geuze drinker, bottles of Geuze are currently maturing, for a special vintage edition of brewery 3 Fonteinen, with a label of one of Felix De Boeck’s ‘Nightlights’. Art and heritage in a local story.
Just like in the black-and-white broadcasts of ‘Ten huize van’ (In the house of…) from the former BRT, we get to know Felix, in his living room, in the stables and, of course, in his painting studio. The farm has always been a meeting place: artists, poets, prominent people and fellow villagers came there regularly. And that atmosphere of a visit to Felix is being recreated.
Last year, the local associations were given a first glimpse of the farmstead and daily life on the painter-farmer’s farm, in all its simplicity. The kitchen as the central place of the house, around the Louvain stove, where a rickety staircase leads up to Felix’s painting studio, with large windows overlooking the orchard.
An opportunity, thanks to their findings, to further develop the scenography and refine accents with a view to full public access, but also an opportunity to let the inhabitants of Drogenbos have their say and tell their anecdotes about this special villager. This resulted in a participatory photo project, with the support of the heritage unit ‘Zender’, which is now also shown in the attic space of the farmstead. In Felix’s time, this attic space was his improvised museum, where he showed his work to eminent people such as Queen Fabiola, but also to his countless visitors who showed an interest in his art.
Today, in the same spirit as then, this attic space is a meeting place where local associations find a place. And where now hang the portraits of the villagers who wanted to share their story of Felix. The local was important to Felix, as it is to us. The pursuit of a community museum is also echoed here.
In the 1960s, Felix revisited themes from the 1920s and again painted abstractly. After the death of his wife Marieke, he finds an ultimate abstract synthesis in the series ‘Beginning and End’ and ‘Space’, where geometry and a broad colour palette come together. For Felix, geometry stands for the universal and the spiritual, colour for the everyday and the human.
Felix De Boeck’s farm is now fully open to the public. FeliX is now an integrated heritage ensemble: abstract art, nature and heritage live on here. The re-launch of the museum site to FeliX Art & Eco Museum means a new beginning, a museum that is unique in the museum landscape, and that literally gives oxygen to the Southern regio of Brussels. With a wide-open, colourful and sustainable view of the future, we plough on, inspired by the legacy of the remarkable farmer-painter.
From now on, your museum visit will also include a heritage and nature experience. The farm of Felix De Boeck is always open during the opening hours of the museum or by reservation.
More info: 02 377 57 22 or email@example.com