Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brussels – the Armenian Boghossian Foundation and Villa Empain

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.

Photo courtesy Armenian Weekly

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-Art

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.

The 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.

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!


Putz said...

of course living in verdun, i was very close to brussels><<><>ate wiener schnizels there and enjoyed the bridges as much as when i was in paris<><>of course the atonium

Lonicera said...

I've never been able to understand the mind of a vandal, and what drives them to destroy a building just because it's empty. How beautifully restored it is. Enjoyed this post very much.

Pierre BOYER said...

Vraiment magnifique !
Superbe maison...


French Girl in Seattle said...

Very thorough and interesting post, as always. Merci Vagabonde. Even though I went to Brussels on a regular basis while I lived in France, i never visited the Fondation Boghossian. Thanks to you, "c'est chose faite" now. ;-) A bientôt, Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

DJan said...

How absolutely delightful! I never expect anything less, and I pondered the collage pictures with interest. I do wonder just WHAT that hairy one is (there are four pictures, it is in the lower left). I couldn't figure it out.

As always, you captured the essence of the Foundation, and if I ever have a chance to visit Brussels, I will go there myself. Oh, and those two elegant chairs! I've never seen anything like them.

FilipBlog said...

Your collages are perfect again.


DB said...

A beautiful visit. Thank you Vagabonde. There are 2 things about your essay that bring me to comment. One is that I worked with the singer/actress Lorraine Serabian. She was in the original production of the musical Zorba on Broadway, and she played it with me when I did Zorba in another theatre.

Also about Heliopolis, the ancient city mentioned in the Bible as a major center of learning, had 2 obelisks, which Nebacudnezer threatened to smash. One of them is outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is incorrectly called "Cleopatras Needle" but it was donated to the city by the Khadiv of Egypt. The other one is somewhere in Europe, possibly Paris.

Friko said...

Very good pictures.
I love the art deco house, such clean lines.

Sally Wessely said...

Thank you for this beautifully done post. I also love Art Deco. This villa is a beautiful example of this type of architecture. You captured the beauty of it all so artfully with your collages.

Kay said...

Wow! Thank you for your hard work in putting together this wonderful post. It's so much fun to see Europe with you.

Marja said...

Interesting th hear about the names. What a beautiful art. The figure of the woman with the frog is just fascinating. I have visited Brussels a few times and love it. We always staued in a little hotel close to manneke pies

Marja said...

Interesting th hear about the names. What a beautiful art. The figure of the woman with the frog is just fascinating. I have visited Brussels a few times and love it. We always staued in a little hotel close to manneke pies

This is Belgium said...

This is great, Vagabonde, I love the Empain house on Roosevelt. Did not know about the actual exhibition, Modesty and Anger of Women, will check it out and hope to go by before it closes in September.
Your photo's of the art deco treasures are fantastiques... and guess what !! you must have walked by my house ! I recognize a house à deux pas de la nôtre on Edith Cavell and Moliere.
Maybe your friends live around the corner
le monde est tellement petit.
In any event : great post again about Brussels and Belgium !

Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting material to read and so many beautiful photographs.

Dutchbaby said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post Madame Vagabonde! How fortunate that this gorgeous art deco work was rescued and I'm grateful you shared it here.

I know I've told you about my Armenian magnet before. Life continually presents me with the most wonderful, interesting Armenian friends, with you being the most recent one. I had no idea that Cher, Agassi, Francis, and Connors (!) were Armenian.

Now back to this glorious mansion. The arcing iron-works are divine. I love every single detail you captured. You also took a beautiful picture of the train with the red stripe and the curving wall.

The exhibit of women looks impressive - your opening shot from across the balcony is powerful

And oh, I bet you enjoyed that mineral water ;-)

Pat said...

A wonderful ost and beautifully ut together. I silt coffee today so now not all my letters work.
I wonder if your favourite sculture had kissed the frog he would have become a rince.
So sorry.

Darlene said...

Thank you for another well done tour of places I hoped to see and, now, never will. I so enjoy seeing them through the lens of your camera. The accompanied information makes it all so real and enjoyable.

Thank you for your dedication to sharing and for doing such a magnificent job. I have said it before and will say it again. Your posts would make a wonderful book. You should publish your blog.

Olga said...

This is an absolutely incredible post. The exhibition made such an impression on me, with its lack of stereotypes and all the creativity. Thank you for taking us on this journey.

Amanda said...

I always learn so much for your posts, all fascinating and the pictures really beautiful and clear.

Elaine said...

You made good use of your short time in Brussels. Such a beautiful city! The details on this house and the Erasmus House are lovely. Thanks for another delightful tour!

Curvy Kitty said...

What a stunning art deco building! So glad it was saved. I do envy you your travels.

Arti said...

Fascinating post! Your photos are wonderful, even the way you've arranged them is elegant and stylish. I've enjoyed particularly the collage of Art Deco lines, doors, ceilings and handrails... and the buildings. And, thanks for the tidbits about celebs who are Armenian. As always, your post is highly informative and captivating... Your two days in Brussels were rewarding indeed.

Jojo said...

Very interesting tour and exhibit. Belgium is one of the countries in Europe that I've not had the chance to visit. Our best man at our wedding and he and his family shared many stories about the Armenian holocaust. He happened to be a jeweler too though his creations were much simpler. Thank you for the tour.

Shammickite said...

I will comment on your post tomorrow, right now I want to say......Latest news flash: Twins have arrived.... doubled my grandchild count in one fell swoop! WOOHOO!!!!! I'm a happy Nana.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

The Restoration of that Villa is quite Extrordinary! And when you think of it's chequered history, and how many times it changed hands---these people certainly gave it their loving BEST! And that exhibit is really fantastic! That is one I'd love to see "in person"---but having your fantantic post as a guide, I feel like I DID see it, 'in person'. Wonderful beautiful place---LOVE all the Art Deco touches, too, and what a very beautiful city Brussels is....Thank You, My Dear....This was, as always, a super post!

Vicki Lane said...

Another wonderful post, Vagabonde! The interior of the house is an art exhibit in itself.

Ginnie said...

Saskia mineral water! You lucky lady. I'd take out stock in it. HA!

The thing I have most loved about your Brussels posts, Vagabonde, is that you've seen things I haven't even heard of, even though I've been there several times now. I can see why this particular villa captivated you...and the women's exhibit in particular. I would love to see it.

You have such an educational and artistic way of presenting your posts. I'm never disappointed!

claude said...

Tes posts sont toujours très intéressants, Vagabonde. Très documentés tant par les images que par tes écrits.

Snowbrush said...

I'm glad you had a great time in Brussels. I sure enjoyed your photos.

BJM said...

Most interesting! 40 years ago we built a house on a street where there were houses built in the 1930s in exactly this style. They are still lived in and cherished by their owners. This is in a suburb of Glasgow and the houses are known as: "The International Style".

claude said...

J'ai oublié de réagir sur la bouteille d'eau minérale.
Le génocide Arménien est une douloureuse histoire. Tu pzartlais de changement de noms. Notre chanteur national Charles Aznavour s'appelle en réalité Aznavourian. Il a changé son nom pour la scène, ce qui peut se comprendre, mais sur son passeport aussi, et il n'y a pas si si longtemps. Je n'ai pas trop compris cette démarche.

Dianne said...

the exhibit looks fascinating
I too love the sculpture, I wonder if the frog represents her prince

the villa is beautiful

Jeanie said...

Absolutely fascinating! I love "traveling" with you! I always learn something new. And by the way, the Saskia water bottle -- significant?!

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