After leaving Erasmus’s garden (see last post) we went back to our friends’ home for a late lunch. It was a delicious lunch with fresh German mineral water. (Please click on pictures to enlarge them, and a second time on each picture in collages.)
We were taking an evening train back to Paris and quickly packed our bags. Our friend said we had enough time to visit one more interesting building in Brussels. When they suggested that we visit the villa renovated by the Boghossian Foundation, I said “yes” immediately as I knew this would be an Armenian foundation. My friend Serge parents were both Armenian and my father was an Armenian from Istanbul, Turkey.
About 94% of Armenian family names end with “ian.” My maiden name did end in ian and was long and difficult to pronounce. Many Armenians who left during the mass killing in Turkey changed their names. The father of Andre Agassi of tennis fame changed their name from Aghassian to Agassi. Mike Connors who played Mannix in a CBS show was born Krekor Ohanian. Arlene Francis who was a panelist for years on “What’s my line” was born Arline Francis Kazanjian. Of course everyone knows that the singer Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian. But some did not change their name like the author William Saroyan, the musical drum maker Zildjian, “doctor death” Jack Kevorkian and, of course, the Kardashian family. Some names did not end in “ian” like the journalist Nicholas Donabet Kristof who wrote the book “Half the Sky” and is a regular commentator for the New York Times – his father was an ethnic Armenian from the Carpathian region of Europe.
Serge told me the story of the Villa Empain as we were driving there. Edouard Empain was a self-made Belgian engineer, railroad and banking tycoon who became extremely wealthy. He founded many companies including the Paris Metro which his family owned until 1949 and the development of Heliopolis near Cairo, Egypt. One of his sons, 21 years old Louis, had a residence built in a prestigious area of Brussels. This art deco gem was built in 1934 as a bachelor pad. Louis donated his property to the Belgian State in 1937 with the understanding that it would become a museum of contemporary art. This was not done and several years later the German Army requisitioned the villa and occupied it until the end of the war. Then it became the Soviet Embassy. In the 60s the Empain family recovered the property since the Belgian State had not made it a museum, as agreed, and then sold it. It was occupied by a TV station in the 1990s but was later abandoned – vandals and squatters came in - this was almost the end of the beautiful villa.Fortunately a family of Armenian jewelers, the Boghossian, rescued the villa when they purchased it as headquarters for their family foundation as well as for a cultural center promoting an East-West dialogue through art. The Boghossian family fled Armenia during the genocide. They left Lebanon after the civil war there and pursued their diamond and jewelry business in Geneva, Switzerland and Antwerp, Belgium. For more than four generations they have created fine jewelry. Their brand “Bogh-Art” is sought after by jewelry connoisseurs. Below are some samples of their work.
Photos courtesy Bogh-ArtThe outside of the house is a bit austere as it is made of polished granite with windows framed in bronze. The front door with gold-leaf framing is outstanding.
Much of the interior of the house had been destroyed and extensive renovations had to be made. The Boghossian Foundation and the Brussels Region Committee spent over 12 millions Euros (US $17.3 million) to bring the villa back to its original splendor - it was opened to the public in April 2010. “We want the Villa Empain to become a center of creativity and of dialogue between different cultures,” Jean Boghossian writes on the foundation’s website. “If the Villa Empain becomes the center of shared creativity, the ‘embassy’ of oriental cultures in the capital of Europe, we will have realized our dream.” Pictures below showing renovations from the archives of the Boghossian Foundation.
Once inside I was overwhelmed by the beautiful Art Deco lines, the doors and partitions carved from mahogany, rosewood and burr walnut. The floors and wall covered in Carrara marble look sleek.
An exhibit called “Modesty and Anger of Women” was being shown – it will be there until 25 September 2011. The brochure states that thirty Eastern and Western artists were invited to express themselves on the multiple aspects of the feminine body.
“Rituals, wigs, scarves, make-up and so many other constraints determined the life of women for Centuries, between concealment, unveiling and revealing…. Since millenniums and in most cultures, women hide certain parts of their body. Is it natural modesty which protects them, signs of respect or constraints imposed by a collectively recognized decency?... The mirror, the Oriental amulets which protect from the evil eye, eyes hidden behind dark glasses or under the netting of a chadri, made up with kohl, shy or provocative; the mysteries of these multiple expressions have fascinated and inspired many artists.” Here is a collection of pictures I took at this exhibit.
I especially liked this sculpture
Well, maybe because of the frog. Isn’t it cute?
The artists were from many different lands: Egypt, Switzerland, Japan, India, France, Italy, Poland, The USA, UAE, Iran, Lebanon, Israël, Iraq, Russia, Turkey, the Netherlands, China, Portugal, Belgium. As I was walking admiring all these pieces of art I was also checking the many Art Deco touches and furniture of the villa.
The swimming pool looked like a cool oasis during warm days (wish I was there now!)
Entering a small room we saw a couple of inviting chairs to rest our tired feet.
There was more to see like these photographs by Egyptian Youssef Nabil
but we had a train to catch in a little while. So we left this splendid villa. I still had time to take more pictures of the Brussels buildings.
It did not take very long to pick-up our bags and be at the station.
Time to take our 7:15 pm train to Paris.
What a wonderful two days we had in Brussels. We saw so much it seems we were there much longer. Au revoir Bruxelles!