Since I heard, that Christian de Portzamparc was the architect for this new Hergé museum built in 2009 in Ottignies/Louvain la Neuve, Belgium, I had wanted to visit it. And the occasion was given to me by a wonderful Franco-Belgium wedding nearby and my stay at Villa Monceau, a small family hotel five minutes away. It took us three hours from Paris and it is forty minutes from Brussels. The place is whimsical, beautifully laid out and fascinating for anyone who has read Tintin in their youth. The colorful architecture gives it a great light and happiness in a country which often has low skies. And the collection of original plates and books is exceptional.
When you arrive you are sent to the third floor by a charming cashier and the visit starts immediately with a dark room with photographs of Hergé in a black sky, illuminated like stars by pictures of his characters. It is instantly appealing. “If my parents are to be believed, I was never really well-behaved unless I had a pencil and a piece of paper in my hands. When I was seven, I used to make little sketches about a street kid. I could only tell a story through the medium of drawing. This is how it all began” said Hergé in 1978.
Born in 1907, in Brussels, Georges Rémy took the pen name of Hergé, which is the French pronunciation of his reversed initials RG. He started out drawing for advertising and invented various comics like “the Adventures of Totor” in 1928 or “Quick and Flupke, Brussels street urchins” in 1930. In 1934, Tintin’s adventures “the Cigars of the Pharaoh” published in black and white by Casterman are based on a deep research of Egyptian digs like all his future titles set in Peru or in Tibet. His style is very sober as we can see on an illustration of “Prisoners of the Sun” (le Temple du Soleil) of 1946. Sketches of pencil on paper or of Indian ink and gouache on drawing paper are moving, when we know how successful his work became around the globe in his lifetime and since he died.
Hergé works all the time: for “le Petit Vingtième“, a weekly magazine 1928-1940 for children, where Tintin’s adventures start in 1929, but also for “Le Boy Scout belge”, a monthly review and for numerous advertising campaigns like the Turkish cigarettes Moldavan or the Sédagénol sedatives, which are incredibly modern in style. The 1930’s see the artist create the majority of his characters and develop various artistic techniques such as engraving, illustration, typography and graphic design.
It is also quite moving to see models for the Aurora ship from “l’Etoile Mystérieuse” (the shooting star) or the rocket of “Destination Moon” which turned Tintin into the first man to walk on the moon… One can see a picture of the Dalai Lama reading Tintin in Tibet, a cover of Tintin magazine founded in 1946, with a “Merry Christmas” illustration featuring Captain Haddock and Tintin in a crèche. His many drawings indicating that his studio was moving address are also great fun.
If you choose to stay the night in the area, Villa Monceau is a great family hotel at very reasonable pries (100€). Its owner, Cédric du Monceau, had an International career and is now involved in local politics following the steps of his father Yves who was mayor between 1959 and 1989. In 1972, he brought Université Catholique de Louvain to Ottignies, thus making it a much larger city. The rooms are very comfortable with a gastronomic restaurant, Cecila, open a few days a week.
Musée Hergé is five minutes away at Rue du Labrador 26, Otttignies.
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