Genck today is nothing like what it looked like at the start of one of Belgium’s most beloved artists’ colonies in 1840. Today, the city is lively, full of industry, shopping malls and glittering buildings. Only a few 19th century buildings, such as the former city hall, seem to suggest a historical centre. Then, the cultivation of the heaths had reached its peak, resulting in an endless landscape. As far as the eye could see, the sandy region was carpeted with purple heather and drifting dunes, intertwined by little brooks and dotted with ponds and marshy pools.
Sounds beautiful and peaceful, right? At a time when nature was a big source of inspiration, the variety of this landscape offered dozens of plein-airistes inspiration. Between 1840 and 1940, hundreds of painters flocked to Genck to capture the scenery on canvas. When in 1917 the first Kempen coal mine came into operation, Genck gradually became the throbbing heart of the regional mining industry. Two resident artists, Armand Maclor and Emile van Doren, tried their hardest to conserve the natural landscape. By putting it on the tourist map, they hoped the landscape would prove significant enough to stand in the way of industry.
Today, the Emile Van Dorenmuseum (housed in villa Le Coin Perdu, his former home) conserves the memory of the local landscape and tells the landscape painters’ story in various exhibitions. Also, the museum commissions temporary artists to create new work, inspired by the current landscape.