2019 sees the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525/30 – 1569). To mark the occasion the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is dedicating the world’s first ever major monograph exhibition to the artist widely regarded as the 16th century’s greatest Netherlandish painter.
Just over forty paintings by Bruegel’s own hand have been preserved to this day. The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna owns by far the largest collection, with twelve panels. This is due not least to the fact that, already in the 16th century, Habsburg collectors had recognised the exceptional quality and originality of Bruegel’s imagery and endeavoured to acquire his prestigious works. Bruegel’s popularity is also down to the stunning compositions themselves, which are often moralising and always teeming with characters, inviting the viewer to reflect on the multi-layered complexity of the image contents.
In museums and private collections, Bruegel’s works are rightly held to be among the most precious, but also the most fragile inventories. To date, the vast majority of the wooden panels have never been loaned for exhibition purposes. So once the collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is complemented by many paintings on loan from international museums and private collections, the overview of Bruegel’s entire oeuvre is set to be nothing short of sensational.