Valère-Gille and La Jeune Belgique

The poet and writer Valère-Gille, Michel Wittock’s maternal grandfather, was born in 1867 into a bourgeois francophone family in Brussels. After studying law at the University of Louvain, from 1887 he collaborated on the literary review “La Jeune Belgique”, becoming editor in 1889. He formed lasting friendships with certain contributors to the review such as Ivan Gilkin and Albert Giraud. He was important in mediating between the review and certain poets such as Verhaeren and Rodenbach, who criticised it for its attachment to the Parnassian style, while they showed a marked preference for symbolism. Under Michel Wittock grandfather’s editorship La Jeune Belgique also published many contemporary French poets including Mallarmé, Régnier, Huysmans and Kahn.

Valère-Gille published no less than eight poetry collections including La Cithare (Paris, 1897) which was awarded a prize by the Académiefrançaise. He also wrote several plays. In 1925 and again in1946 he was director of the Belgian Royal Academy of French Language and Literature, giving numerous academic lectures, in particular to welcome Colette (1936), Charles Plisnier (1938) and Paul-Henri Spaak (1947).

Michel Wittock has faithfully recreated his grandfather’s study, with his art nouveau furniture specially created by the architect Paul Hankar. Most of the books in the poet’s library are signed by their authors. Also conserved are the important archives comprising mainly letters from King Albert I, artists who contributed to La Jeune Belgique (including Ensor, Redon and Khnopff), Belgian writers and personalities, and his many French friends. These letters, numbering around one thousand, are kept in individual cellophane sleeves and are meticulously arranged in cases made specially by Liliane Gérard and her pupils at the La Cambre bookbinding workshop.