The Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, located on the River Lys near the village of Deurle, was founded by the couple Jules and Irma Dhondt-Dhaenens. In 1967, they commissioned architect Erik Van Biervliet to realize a modernist building in the vicinity of their own home. The museum was meant to house their private collection while also being a place where various cultural and artistic activities could be held.
At the laying of the first stone of the Museum Mrs. Jules Dhondt-Dhaenens on September 19, 1967, a lead pipe containing the statutes of the museum to be built was bricked in. Those statutes stipulated that the museum was intended to house the body of works from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jules Dhondt Dhaenens and make them publicly accessible. The building and accompanying land could also be used for organizing all kinds of events that would promote the general culture and well-being in Flanders.
It was the couple’s intention to emancipate the Flemish people through cultural means. Jules Dhondt had long been one of the most loyal patrons of the Flemish Movement without ever being politically outspoken. He was one of the founders of the Handelsbank, the first Flemish bank. He also financed the first Festival van Vlaanderen in Brussels in the early sixties, which was then considered a provocative statement of the Flemish inhabitants in Brussels. With the museum, Jules Dhondt hoped to culturally elevate the Flemish people.
For the Board of Directors, Jules Dhondt invited committed people from various political tendencies, all of which were champions of the Flemish cause. The struggle for a culturally and economically independent Flanders must be seen within its correct time frame. It is a strive for freedom and the recognition of the Flemish language and heritage. The couple saw the museum as a cultural generator for the region. While the Association of the MHK in Ghent and the ICC in Antwerp at this time focused on international contemporary art, the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens wanted to present a platform for local and Flemish artists.
The inauguration of the museum site took place on November 30, 1968. In his speech, Walther Vanbeselaere, the then curator of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, gave the following advice to the numerous visitors who had come to attend the opening: “Come back to this museum, alone, during daytime and preferably in sunny weather, because only then will you be able to take every painting in, brought to life by the blessing of the irreplaceable daylight, immersed in a white space and in living contact with the precious Lys landscape which you, thanks to the vertical slit windows, can see ever-present and admire from the room up to the overarching sky, stretched over the glorious deed of this gift as a blessing high above.”