The Antwerp Museum Mayer van den Bergh gives attention to the impressive art collection that Fritz Mayer van den Bergh (1858-1901) assembled at the end of the 19th Century. The museum opened it doors in 1904, three years after the early death of Fritz Mayer.
In 1878, Fritz prematurely broke of his studies in letters, philosophy and law at the University of Ghent. In that year, his father also died. He went back to his mother's home and schooled himself as an antiquarian, which entirely suited his passion: the collection of art from home and abroad.
At the end of the 19th Century, collecting meant in the first place that one constructed a collection of antiquities, objects of all sorts that exhibited evidence of a historical importance. True art collections were rare. Fritz Mayer van den Bergh bought the most diverse works of art, among which were practical objects, but also old and modern paintings and sculptures. However, he exhibited a definite preference from early on.
From 1892 on, the collector placed an emphasis on painting and scuptures and on a well-balanced collection. Initially he primarily had an interest in Italian masters and Dutch painters of genre tableaux. He travled frequently to Italy, among other places. He also purchased works of art at auctions in Paris, London and Cologne, but also in Holland and Flanders.
An important moment was the purchase of the Micheli collection in Paris in 1898. This purchase shows his preference for late-Gothic art.
All expensive and important pieces from the current museum were purchased in the last three years of his activity as a collector (1898-1900). At the time he was known as an eminent art connoisseur.
It is certian that Fritz Mayer van den Bergh had the ambition to place his collection in its own museum in time. Certain pieces, including hearth mantelpieces and cordeliers, he purchased with the intention of later furnishing a museum. It was ultimately his mother who, after his death, realised his unfulfilled dream.