By opening a Provincial Museum of Antiquities in 1884, the Historical and Archaeological Society of Limburg (LGOG) laid the foundations for a museum culture in the province of Limburg. In 1968, the society handed over the collection to the Provincial Museum of Art and Antiquities Foundation, which then became known as the Bonnefantenmuseum. Since then, the Bonnefanten has grown steadily into a true museum of art.

The Bonnefantenmuseum’s collection has its own clear style, not least because it represents very few artists who can be categorised as ‘usual suspects’. You would have to search hard to find the really big names from international art history that are best known to the general public. Apart from the odd Brueghel, Rubens or Ai Weiwei, the Bonnefanten has no works by celebrities like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Warhol or Rothko. The Bonnefanten’s individual character is derived more from the oeuvres of leading lights such as Jan van Steffeswert, the Master of Elsloo, Pieter Aertsen, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Lucas Cranach, Henri de Fromantiou, Marcel Broodthaers, René Daniels, Pawel Althamer, Thomas Hirschhorn, Roman Signer, Franz West, Mark Manders, Bethan Huws, Francis Alÿs, Paul Chan, István Csákány, Camille Henrot, Kahlil Joseph, Navid Nuur, Grayson Perry, Pierre Huyge, Peter Doig, Mary Heilmann, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Laura Lima, Marlene Dumas, Melanie Bonajo, Tanja Ritterbex, Paloma Varga Weisz, and others.

They are artists who occupy a distinctive and striking position, and thereby do justice to the belief in ‘multivocality’, or in other words a more diverse and multiform view of art history. The image this creates is one of a collection that reflects not so much the mainstream canon, but rather the underexposed art histories and their hidden gems. Within the setting of the Bonnefanten, we have been using the term secret canon for some years now, in a metaphorical sense, to refer to this specific focus of the museum.

Collections of old masters, modern and contemporary art 

The Bonnefanten’s collection of old masters (predating ca. 1800) comprises some clearly defined sub-collections, as well as one closely related private collection:

  • Italian painting, ca. 1300-1550 
  • Mediaeval West-European sculpture, ca. 1300-1600 
  • Dutch and German painting, ca. 1450-1800 
  • Neutelings Collection. West-European mediaeval (small) sculpture, 12th to 16th century 
  • Maastricht silver, ca. 1700-1850 
  • Romanesque architectural fragments, 11th to 13th century 
  • Work on paper, 17th to 19th century 

The core collection of twentieth-century art is dominated by the ensembles of international protagonists in the fields of minimalism, conceptual art and arte povera, alongside a collection of modern and contemporary art by Limburg artists and the more or less complete collection of graphic work by architect Aldo Rossi.

The international collection of contemporary art is currently developing along three discernible strategic lines. First of all, the aim is to collect reference works and room-sized installations that represent distinctive, individual and exemplary art practices of a high international standard. Secondly, there is a line within the collection that relates to the new, proactive focus of the museum on non-Western regions and their contemporary art practices, which is seen in the biennial Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art (BACA), for example. The third line in the collecting policy concerns continuing our focus on artists from our own region.