Thursday, December 30, 2010

Desolation at Argenteuil

Here is a rather sad slideshow of the estate of Argenteuil fallen into disrepair. The photographs date from 2004, two years after the death of Princess Lilian, and the same year that Jean-Marie Delwart purchased the property. Although I have nothing against Monsieur Delwart, I wish Argenteuil could have been maintained, as Lilian had hoped, as she left it, as a memorial to Leopold III and his second family. It seems tragic that such a rich chapter in Belgian royal history should slip into oblivion. I can understand why Madame Jeannine Degrève, the most faithful member of the household of Argenteuil, who had remained in Princess Lilian's service for 53 years, locked up the empty, deserted mansion for the last time with tears in her eyes.

It must have been even more painful for Prince Alexandre and Princess Esmeralda to see their youthful home stripped bare. While the state furnishings, borrowed in 1961, returned to Laeken, the children had to preside over the sale of many family treasures, including Princess Lilian's wardrobe and much of King Leopold's library, since they were unable to keep them at Argenteuil or accommodate them in their own homes. Their sister Marie-Christine's insistence on receiving her portion of her mother's inheritance in cash rather than in goods also made it necessary to sell family goods for profit. Furthermore, forced to empty Argenteuil in haste, Alexandre and Esmeralda could give only general instructions to those responsible for classifying the chateau's contents and setting items aside for sale. Objects of special historical value, intimately linked to the lives of past Belgian kings, were dispersed because Lilian's heirs could not oversee everything in detail.

Unfortunately, however, often unaware of these practical problems, many Belgians harshly criticized Alexandre and Esmeralda. In the press, they were portrayed as heartless, greedy individuals, crassly dilapidating the "national heritage" for money. The attacks seem quite unfair and ironic, as Lilian's heirs had battled, for months, to preserve Argenteuil, essentially intact, as a memorial to their parents' cultural, scientific and humanitarian work, and it was the Belgian state that had made this impossible... Ironically, too, there was a singular lack of public indignation at the government's sale of Argenteuil itself!


Photographs courtesy of Tatiana Faber

More photographs, of the interior of the mansion

3 comments:

Matterhorn said...

It makes me angry. Prince Charles, the former regent, got his museum at his seaside residence in Raversijde. But no museum for Leopold III, the former KING, at Argenteuil...

Anonymous said...

How sad Argenteuil was so beautiful.
And King Leopold and princess Lilian ware happy here.
It's a part history,and a memory of the king and princess.
Don't let it fall apart.

Matterhorn said...

Yes, I agree!

At least, however, it has come into the hands of someone who seems to keep the property in good condition, although it is not as it was during the time of the King and the Princess.