Villa Empain

Brussels, Belgium | C.1935

Photo Credit: Daphne Pauwels

It was once the trophy of a young baron. A radio show or two has played from its halls. The USSR almost used it as its Belgian stomping ground. So one begins to explain the back-and-forth journey of Villa Empain. 

Son of a successful Belgian industrialist, Baron Louis Empain tasked Swiss-Belgian architect Michel Polak to design a sumptuous home in the trendy southern portion of Brussels. Designing a fantastic Art-Deco-style estate, Polak’s Villa Empain would be completed in 1935. Decidedly unsure about what to do with his new home (he was only 22 when he asked for it to be designed), Empain gave it to the Belgian government with the intention of the villa housing an art museum.

While these intentions were slowly being met, the building’s occupation by German forces in World War II abruptly ended the young museum’s tenure. After the war, the Belgian government was very close to handing the old home over to the USSR to use as an embassy when the Empain family stepped in to ask for the Villa Empain back—as it was against the original stipulation that it be a state museum. Before long, however, the Empain family would sell off the home again, where it changed a few hands and even housed Radio-Televisonne Luxembourg’s offices before becoming abandoned and derelict. 

In 2006, the deteriorating home was acquired by the Boghossian Foundation, and a multi-million dollar restoration of the Villa Empain would be awarded the European Union’s Europa Nostra prize. Now home to a modern art museum run by the foundation, Louis Empain’s wish has finally been met.  

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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