The donation of the Villa to the Belgian State in 1937
It was in this state of mind that in the summer of 1937 he gave up his sumptuous Brussels villa, donating it to the Belgian State. The aim of this exceptional gift was to turn the villa into a royal museum of contemporary decorative arts, under the guidance of a foundation that was to bear the name of Louis Empain.
As indicated by an article that appeared in the newspaper Le Soir on 17 September 1937, Villa Empain, converted into a museum, was to extend the activities of the Institut supérieur des Arts décoratifs de La Cambre, by presenting collections that were yet to be created and temporary exhibitions on contemporary works.
Louis Empain’s affinities with the École de La Cambre, founded in 1927, are obvious when one remembers that the creator of this higher education institute was none other than the architect Henry van de Velde, also the founder in 1901 of the Weimar Institute of Decorative and Industrial arts which, in terms of its principles, prefigured the first Bauhaus school founded by Walter Gropius in 1917. From 1912 onwards, Henry van de Velde worked with the Belgian government to create a similar institute in Brussels. Camille Huysmans, minister for sciences and arts, agreed to his requests four years later, entrusting to him the site of the former Cistercian abbey of La Cambre, located in a hollow terrain running down from avenue Louise. The teaching staff, gathered for the first time in May 1927, comprised remarkable figures from the Belgian avant-garde, who were to teach theatre, drawing, decorative arts for industrial applications, textile art and architecture.
In 1936, the poet and playwright Herman Teirlinckx took over the leadership of the school from Henry van de Velde. It was thus with the former that Louis Empain negotiated the founding principles of the museum that was to be created in his villa. The donation of his villa, which the press unanimously described as extremely generous, had an express condition attached to it, set out in the royal decree of 14 April 1938, concerning its exclusive use as a museum. The museum’s management was entrusted to Herman Teirlinckx, with Camille Huysmans as president.