The museum has a sizeable and rich collection of French paintings from the 19th century. It reflects the taste of the private collectors and salon organisers in Ghent at that time.'Romantic' painters started reacting against the 'cool' and academic Neoclassicism of their age in the beginning of the 19th century. They aimed at truthfulness and tried to observe their surroundings directly, focusing on its 'reality'. It was no longer a matter of 'composing' a piece of nature into a harmonious whole; on the contrary, they sought to represent a 'fragment' of reality on the canvas. Consequently, seeing that nature – including any person sitting for a portrait – changes constantly, they adopted sketchier techniques, and painters abandoned established academic rules and guidelines.
Both the landscapes and the portraits testify to these new views. Similar ideas would later lead to Impressionism. It is not surprising therefore that a number of 19th-century painters went against the 'academically' trained taste of the ordinary citizen and even caused the odd scandal. This is the first occurrence of a true 'avant-garde' in art, that is, a group of artists who were 'ahead' of their time. This concept is connected to the idea of individual freedom, which artists increasingly started to claim at this time.The Ghent collection of Belgian paintings of Romantic and Realist inspiration is extremely rich and varied. Especially landscapes are well represented. Many painters and collectors were highly focused on France, and therefore produced work that strongly echoed of the views of the French Romantic and Realist movements. In the 1860s in particular, the arts were swept by revolutionary changes and the new concept of 'artistic freedom' took hold. From this point onwards, paintings were primarily supposed to express the personality of their creator, or so it was advocated. The subject became no more than an occasion or pretext for achieving that goal.