An Urgently Needed Restoration for a Unique Album

This album of drawings and illustrated letters dating from 1883, part of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (MRBAB) collection, is currently on display at the “James Ensor. Inspired by Brussels” exhibition. Last shown at MoMA in New York in 1999 and at Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2009-2010, the album, featuring watercolor, pencil, charcoal, pen, and ink works, urgently needs restoration. Mariette Rousseau, a close friend of Ensor, meticulously compiled the drawings and letters they exchanged. The album is deteriorating rapidly due to acidic paper, silk sheets, and a partially detached binding.

Ensor and the Rousseau Family: An Extraordinary Friendship

The story unfolds in the Rousseau family home in Ixelles, literally Ensor’s second home. Introduced by Théo Hannon, a painter, Ensor became friends with Mariette Hannon, sister to Théo, and married to Ernest Rousseau who became the family’s guardian upon the death of their father. The Rousseau’s not only supported Ensor as friends but also as patrons, with Mariette serving as his “logistics manager,” supplying art materials and liaising with Brussels printers. Their strong friendship is documented in dozens of letters compiled by Mariette in the “Rousseau” album. These letters reveal a vulnerable and sensitive side of the artist, expressing his affection for Mariette and her family. Examining a hidden drawing on the back of one letter, one might question the platonic nature of their relationship.

A heart-shaped padlock with silhouettes of Mariette and James, where James holds the key, prompts speculation about the true nature of their connection.

KBR and MRBAB unite to preserve this exceptional artwork

While KBR initiated partial restoration of the album for the exhibition “James Ensor. Inspired by Brussels,” a full restoration is urgently needed. By making a donation, you are playing a crucial role in accelerating this process. Support the complex restoration of this unique album which will be led by a specialist restorer at the MRBAB. Here are the main milestones in the restoration process:

  • Treatment of the interleaving paper : reattachment, mending, flattening and create a barrier against acid migration
  • Consolidation of the binding and reattachment of the gatherings
  • Complete documentation of treatment carried out


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