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Brussels show presents private side of screen icon Audrey Hepburn
The exhibition of around 800 photos, some previously unpublished, include black and white portraits that evoke the severity of Dutch aristocracy -- a world she knew as a child.

by Matthieu Demeestere

BRUSSELS (AFP).- An exhibition tracing the private life of screen icon Audrey Hepburn through hundreds of photos and personal items opened in her hometown of Brussels this week to mark the 90th anniversary of her birth.

The "Intimate Audrey" show features nearly a thousand objects gathered by one of her two sons, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, born from her relationship with the US actor and producer Mel Ferrer.

Alongside the glamour of the star who shot dizzyingly to Hollywood fame -- winning an Oscar at just 25 for her role alongside Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday" -- the exhibition focuses on Hepburn's life as a mother and as a UNICEF ambassador, a role she threw herself into during the five years leading up to her death in 1993.

"Fundamentally we don't learn anything new, but when we get to the end, we see that the girl that the world fell in love with... has blossomed into this woman. You see it, you feel it," Sean Hepburn Ferrer told AFP on the eve of the opening.

The show reveals a simpler side to the star whose appearance in a dazzling Givenchy gown in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" -- perhaps the most famous "little black dress" of all -- became one of the defining images of 20th century glamour.

"This woman who was a style icon basically lived in a little cotton dress all her life -- a simple life," Hepburn Ferrer said.

Hepburn was born Audrey Ruston on May 4, 1929 in the Brussels district of Ixelles, to a Dutch mother and a British father who was then working for a Belgian subsidiary of the Bank of England.

The exhibition of around 800 photos, some previously unpublished, include black and white portraits that evoke the severity of Dutch aristocracy -- a world she knew as a child.

Then come the first steps in London, where a teenaged Hepburn dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer -- only to have to give it up, her son said, after the traumas of war left her physically too weak for the rigours of professional dance.

That left acting "as a default choice".

A meeting with French writer Colette while shooting in Monte Carlo gave Hepburn her big break, with the author choosing her for the lead in a stage adaptation of her short story "Gigi".

"It was of course she (Colette) who brought her to New York in 1950-51," Ferrer Hepburn said. The move led to her role in the romantic comedy "Roman Holiday" and subsequent stardom.

A photo of the two women annotated in Colette's hand features in the exhibition, along with drawings, writings by the star, the dress she wore at her wedding to Ferrer and the second Oscar statuette she was awarded in 1993 in recognition of her humanitarian work.

The exhibition in Brussels runs until 25 August, with profits going to the fight against rare diseases and cancer.

© Agence France-Presse

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