Sunday, March 3, 2013

Argenteuil: Pour garder intacte la mémoire du domaine royal

This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. Published by the late Prince Alexandre of Belgium, son of Leopold III and Lilian Baels, it is a magnificent pictorial history of the estate of Argenteuil. Superb photographs, in black and white, and in color, help to trace the development of Argenteuil, from the construction of the mansion in the Sonian Forest by American entrepreneur William Tuck in 1930 to the sale of the property to industrialist and philosopher, Jean-Marie Delwart, in 2004. Purchased by the Belgian government in 1949, Argenteuil was placed at the disposition of Leopold, Lilian, and their children from 1960-2002. 

The arrival of this politically inconvenient, rejected, but richly talented branch of the royal family inaugurated the golden age of the chateau. Lilian's lavish but exquisitely refined tastes transformed the bare and dilapidated mansion into a distinguished and elegant home for the former King of the Belgians. Here, with energy and passion, yet with discretion and delicacy, the royal couple devoted themselves to scientific, cultural and humanitarian pursuits; Leopold to his Fonds Léopold III Pour l'Exploration et la Conservation de la Nature and Lilian to her Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. 

After Leopold's death in 1983, Lilian cherished his memory and hoped to preserve the royal heritage of Argenteuil for future generations. In her Will, she requested that she be buried on the estate and that the chateau be maintained, essentially, as she left it, as a memorial to her husband and as a centre for scientific and cultural reunions. She hoped that, in the future, her descendants would be able to visit Argenteuil often, on their vacations. After Lilian's death in 2002, the Verhofstadt government respected none of these rather poignant last wishes. Instead, Lilian was interred at Laeken and the mansion was stripped bare and sold to the highest bidder. Nonetheless, books like Prince Alexandre's help to preserve at least the memory of the legendary royal estate. 

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