The inception of the museum was in the beginning of the 20th century when Henri Van Cutsem, a Belgian art collector, offered his collection to the city of Tournai in 1905. The collection contained important works of important 19th century French painters like Manet, Monet, Seurat and others.
The Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta started drafting a new building that would contain the Van Cutsem donation and other holdings already owned by the city of Tournai but the First World War intervened and construction was delayed. Horta abandoned his first designs made in a typical Art Nouveau style. The building that finally opened in 1928 is executed in a more classical and linear style typically for the work of Horta in the post-war period (cf. Palais des Beaux-Arts / Paleis voor Schone Kunsten in Brussels).