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First year of Flemish Masters draws more than one million visitors

09:12 26/06/2019

An initiative to promote Flanders as a destination for art enthusiasts has been a resounding success so far, according to tourism minister Ben Weyts. In its first year, more than one million visitors were drawn to exhibitions and other events in the Flemish Masters programme, which runs until 2020.

VisitFlanders has invested €26 million in 16 projects around the Flemish Masters. In 2018, the focus was on Pieter Paul Rubens, while this year Pieter Bruegel the Elder has come to the fore. In 2020, attention will shift to the van Eyck brothers.

“It pays to bet on the assets that distinguish Flanders from other tourist destinations,” said Weyts, announcing the results.

Promotion of Rubens has naturally focused on his home town of Antwerp, which attracted 1,034,000 visitors in 2018, more than half of them from abroad. The Rubens exhibitions in the city together counted 975,000 visitors, some 400,000 more than expected.

Dutch, German and British tourists were particularly numerous among visitors to Antwerp, with 62% of foreign visitors staying overnight. This is an important goal if a city is to reap an economic benefit from tourism.

“Rubens is a first-class, international commodity that we have started to more fully take advantage of,” said Weyts. “In so doing, we are attracting an audience that not only visits the tourist sites, but also wants to see the rest of Flanders. In addition, they visit both during and outside the classic tourist season.”

In addition to the giants of Flemish art, the programme has also pulled some lesser-known figures into the spotlight. An exhibition on Adriaen Brouwer last year in Oudenaarde was particularly successful, with 52,000 visitors, about 2,000 more than expected.

The Flemish Masters initiative has been helped by press coverage around the world, with more than 900 articles published about the project in the international media. Awareness of this history of Flemish painting is also rising at home. When the local public was surveyed in 2016, scarcely 50% found the concept familiar. Now awareness stands at 70%.

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)