BRUSSELS – Few actresses from the past are as present and recognizable as Audrey Hepburn, a woman whose intimate life was kept out of the spotlight but has now been revealed through the eyes of her son to mark what would have been her 90th birthday.
The exhibition “Intimate Audrey” opened this week and with more than 800 photographs — some previously unseen — and hundreds of objects it pays homage to the Hollywood icon, who was born in the Ixelles neighborhood of Brussels on May 4.
“I thought it was nice to celebrate this anniversary by returning to Brussels,” the artist’s eldest son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, told EFE on Friday.
He said the goal of the show, which was in the makings for more than a decade, is to invite visitors to meet the girl and the woman his mother was, irrespective of her being a Hollywood legend.
Few people know of the early years of Audrey Kathleen Ruston, born in Brussels to a Dutch mother and a British father who worked for the Bank of England.
The actress spent some of her childhood living in England to perfect her English, while her teenage years were spent in the Netherlands during World War II.
According to her son, the Brussels show is the first complete exhibition bringing together concepts, images, writings, drawings and videos, and it is unlike previous exhibitions that have focused on her fashion sense or the dresses she wore in the movies.
“After 25 years, it seemed to me that Audrey Hepburn is not only an object but a philosophy,” said Sean, who hopes visitors will discover “the humility and simplicity” of a woman who always stood out for her sophistication and elegance on the screen.
“My mother always looked for the simple, the normal, the natural. We were not a Hollywood family,” he said. “There was no screening room.”
The actress, often lauded as a style icon, “lived her whole life in a little cotton dress,” said Hepburn’s son.
Sean was never aware that his mother was famous and discovered that side to her little by little, he said, adding that his own children are learning about her in a similar way.
The dress Hepburn wore to her wedding to actor and director Mel Ferrer, the Vespa from the movie “Roman Holiday” (1953) and handwritten speeches from the latter years of her life as a UNICEF ambassador are among the items on display at the exhibit that spans two floors of the Espace Vanderborght in the heart of Brussels.
The show includes pieces of some of her most emblematic films and photographs of her daily life with her children, the partners she had, her closest friends as well as the houses in which she lived and spent vacations, including one in the southern Spanish city Marbella and another in Madrid.
Images show a young Hepburn as an aspiring dancer, who tried to make a career in London but who gave up that dream on the advice of a dance teacher, Hepburn as an actress, as well as in later life doing humanitarian work in Africa, before her death in 1993.
The proceeds from the exhibition, which runs until Aug. 25, will go towards fighting rare diseases and cancer.
“The goal of the show is not to promote Audrey Hepburn, she does not need it, but to continue her work, to raise funds,” said her son, who recalled that he lost his mother “over a rare cancer that affects one person in a million.”