The poet and writer Valère Gille, Michel Wittock’s maternal grandfather, was born in 1867 into a bourgeois French-speaking family in Brussels. After studying law at the University of Leuven, he contributed from 1887 to the literary magazine La Jeune Belgique, which he edited from 1889 onwards. He developed a close friendship with some of the magazine’s contributors, such as Ivan Gilkin and Albert Giraud. He played an important role as a mediator between the magazine and certain poets, such as Verhaeren and Rodenbach, who criticised the magazine’s attachment to the Parnassian style, the latter showing a clear preference for symbolism. It was also under the direction of his grandfather that La Jeune Belgique published works by many contemporary French poets, including Mallarmé, Régnier, Huysmans and Kahn.
As a poet, Valère Gille published no less than eight collections of poetry, including La Cithare (Paris, 1897), which was awarded a prize by the Académie française. He also wrote several plays. In 1925, and again in 1946, he was director of the Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, where he gave many academic speeches, in particular to welcome Colette (1936), Charles Plisnier (1938) and Paul-Henri Spaak (1947).
Michel Wittock faithfully reconstructed his grandfather’s study with its furniture specially created by the architect Paul Hankar. Most of the books in the poet’s library bear autographs from their authors. The important archive is also preserved, consisting mainly of letters sent by King Albert I, artists who contributed to the magazine La Jeune Belgique (including Ensor, Redon and Khnopff), Belgian writers and personalities, as well as by his many friends in France. Each of these thousand or so letters is presented in a cellophane pouch, and all of them are preciously stored in special cases made by Liliane Gérard and her students from the La Cambre bookbinding workshop.