by Françoise Aubry, Curator of the Horta Museum, Brussels
At the turn of the 19th century, Brussels went through a period of unrivalled effervescence. The city was beautified under the impetus of King Leopold II, new districts were divided into plots and turned into neighborhoods in formerly suburban municipalities such as Ixelles, Schaerbeek or Saint-Gilles, the boundaries of which tend to merge with those of the City of Brussels proper.
Naturally, the middle classes, merchants and artists opted to have their houses built in the style in vogue: Art Nouveau, also known in English as “Modern Style.” This style was launched in 1893 by two architects, Victor Horta and Paul Hankar: the Tassel House and Hankar’s own private home were the first tokens of a new aesthetic. The use of metal structures allowed the architects to indulge in amazing innovations, and to open out the facades and interiors to allow light to flood in. Three types of motifs tend to predominate: the arabesque, the floral or animal pattern and the feminine silhouette.
At the turn of the century, under the influence of the Viennese Secession, forms tended to become geometric, as circles were combined with squares with greater frequency. Hundreds of houses, but also schools, cafés, and shops rivaled for originality. Craftsmanship in ironwork, wood, stained glass and mosaics attained the acme of quality. The buildings of Strauven, Vizzavona, Hamesse, Sneyers, Cauchie and many others turned Brussels into one of the European capitals of Art Nouveau, alongside Vienna and Barcelona.
The decorative arts would not be outdone: posters, gold and silver work, jewellery, ceramics and glassmaking would find their rightful place in the artistic salons – chiefly those of “Les Vingt” (The Twenty) and “La Libre Esthétique” (Free Aesthetic). Under the influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement, of William Morris and Japan, the decorative arts, often referred to as minor in the past, were placed on equal footing with the Fine Arts: the decorative ensembles of Serrurier-Bovy and Van de Velde, the posters of Crespin and Privat Livemont, the jewellery of Philippe Wolfers, the ceramics of Finch and De Rudder would contribute to making daily life more beautiful. Articles in the decoration reviews of the period proclaimed art in all and, if possible, for all.
Whereas the blaze of Art Nouveau would burn bright for a dozen years or so before being followed by Art Deco, also very richly represented in Brussels, it still lives on in many streets of the Belgian capital.
And you can discover it at leisure as you walk through Brussels…
New! From the Autrique House to the Imaginary House
The first important building by Victor Horta, the Autrique House, is a major element in the architectural heritage of Brussels. Firstly, because this house, dating from 1893, represents an essential stage in the development of Belgium’s greatest architect. Secondly, because this house has been recently restored in – what in many respects can be deemed – an exemplary fashion, contributing towards a better understanding of the origin of Art Nouveau.
The project conceived by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, both well-known figures in the world of the comic strip, is to turn this building onto the “house of houses,” and, in doing so, pay homage to private architecture in Brussels, and at the same time, to a gateway to the imagination.
From the cellar to the attic, the Autrique House underlines the historical and aesthetic interest of Brussels’ houses, revealing them in their mysterious and powerful seduction. Autrique House – More information
In 1893, Emile Tassel, professor of geometry, and Eugène Autrique, a lawyer, understood the ingenious ideals of Victor Horta and asked him to design their homes, the first Art Nouveau buildings in the world - two patrons, both members of the cultivated bourgeoisie in Brussels, a city where Victor Horta would soon emerge as the architect of choice.
François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters describe themselves as creators who express themselves chiefly through the comic strip. Their series “Les Cités Obscures” explores an original universe for which part of the inspiration stems.
E X H I B I T I O N S
The Art Nouveau Facade, a total work of art from illustrators and architects in the late 19th century to the early 20th century.
From 12 April to 18 September 2005
For the Art Nouveau architects, the façade had to be seen as a work of art, to which all artists and craftsmen were invited to contribute. The facades were turned into posters, into total works of art. This exhibition explores the different themes evoked in the Art Nouveau facade, namely sgraffito, ironwork, stained glass, ceramics and architectural mosaic, as well as the general composition, the techniques and the materials used. At the Architecture Museum – La Loge – Rue de l’Ermitage, 86 – 1050 Brussels More information
Housed in a former Masonic lodge, the original volumes and decors of which have been preserved, the Architecture Museum “La Loge” enables the Archives d'Architecture Moderne (AAM) to display its collections of architectural documents (drawings, photographs, models, furniture, etc.). Themed exhibitions offer visitors a global view of architectural creation in Belgium throughout the 20th century.
Art Nouveau day to day
From 12 May to 17 July 2005
Art Nouveau is in daily use through a presentation of period photographs and objects. The idea here is to show how Art Nouveau was part of daily life between 1890 and 1910. This exhibition offers a glimpse of the public and private space generated by Art Nouveau and puts this style in a historical and human perspective. At the Red Cloister Centre for the Arts – Rue de Rouge Cloître, 4 – 1160 Brussels More information
Art Nouveau and Design 1830 – 1958
25 May to 31 December 2005
In connection with the 175th anniversary of the independence of Belgium, the Brussels Royal Museums of History and Art will hold a major exhibition that will feature the development of decorative arts from the 19th to the 20th century, paying homage to the creativity of Belgian artists in interior decoration. Some 250 works of exceptional quality will be on show, stemming essentially from Belgian collections.
A large part of the show is devoted to Art Nouveau, which in a climate of intense prosperity and under the influence of famous designers such as Horta, Van de Velde, Serrurier-Bovy and Wolfers, went through a period of prodigious achievement.
A painter at the beginning, Henry Van de Velde “converted” to the applied arts in 1893. In 1895, he built his “manifesto house,” the “Bloemenwerf,” which he furnished and decorated down to the minutest detail, going as far as designing clothes for his wife. It was the start of a career that was to flourish, particularly in Germany. At the Royal Museums of Art and History Parc du Cinquantenaire, 10 – 1000 Brussels More Information
The Street is a Museum for All
Organised by the non- profit-making association Maison Cauchie ASBL, this exhibition presents some thirty photographic enlargements by François Cambier who, for more than five years, selected the finest sgrafitto works by Paul Cauchie in the whole of the country’s cities. September 2005 at the René Carcan Foundation and Museum, Rue Champ du Roi - 1040 Brussels
From sgraffiti to graffiti
20 October to 3 December
The “Maison des Arts” (House of the Arts) wants to feature sgraffiti and graffiti in a single exhibition. A discovery of two artistic expressions in the public sphere from a different light. At the Maison des Arts - Chaussée de Haecht, 147 - 1030 Brussels
Art Nouveau Festival 2005
In 2005, this Bienniale will be held on 5 weekends, focusing each time on a flagship neighborhood through visits of interiors normally not accessible to the general public, as well as a wide range of guided tours of the Art Nouveau heritage throughout the region. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet the owners of the premises and to discover hidden treasures under the direction of professional guides.
Each week leading up to the weekend, an Art Nouveau location in the neighborhood concerned will be opened and the Brussels Show and Tell guides will provide guided tours (French, Dutch, English and German). Brussels Show and Tell - Rue de Londres 15 - 1050 Brussels More Information
and Handicrafts 2005
The aim of showing creative craftsmen or restorers at work, is to create a meeting place between craftsmen and amateurs, professionals and young people, established practitioners and novices, providing information on real career prospects available in these art trades at the many training centres. Tour & Taxis - rue Picard 3 - 1000 Brussels More Information
Victor Horta (1861-1947) Victor Horta’s career is divided into two periods: the 1st when he broke with the limitations of old styles and created an original vocabulary and new living plan for Brussels town houses, in a unique combination of industrial and precious materials, and a harmony of architecture and interior decors; the 2nd during which he devoted himself to reforming architectural education at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts where he had studied.
The Horta Museum is housed in the private home and studio of the architect Victor Horta. Built between 1898 and 1901, the two buildings are characteristic of Art Nouveau in its heyday. Much of the house’s interior decoration has been preserved: mosaics, stained glass, furniture, and wall paintings combine to form a harmonious and refined whole down to the minutest detail. The museum is also a centre for research on Victor Horta and Art Nouveau. Horta Museum – Rue Américaine 25 – 1060 Brussels More Information
in Little Belgium”
Not to be missed: the top-floor restaurant of the MIM and its panoramic terrace of steel and glass from where you can admire Brussels at a glance whilst taking in music and fine food.
HERITAGE - from
comic strips that have used the Centre as a setting.
On the ground floor, visitors are granted free access to a permanent exhibition entitled “Espace Victor Horta,” which primarily uses photographic documents to place the building, Horta and Art Nouveau in a global historical and cultural context by including other masterpieces of this architectural style. The Belgian Comic Strip Centre - Rue des Sables, 20 - 1000 Brussels More Information
Palais des Beaux-Arts
Palais des Beaux-Arts (Centre for Fine Arts) Guided tours of the building, “From Horta to Horta.” A complete renovation of the interior carried out from 2002 to 2004 restored the building to its original appearance of 1928 as designed by Victor Horta. In line with the times, the architect has opted here for a geometric ornamental repertoire, Art Deco. The usual forms that Horta had used in Art Nouveau are present here, but made geometric.
Guided tours will reveal the genius of Victor Horta and explain the links between Art Nouveau and Art Deco which are as rich as they numerous. Palais des Beaux-Arts – Rue Ravenstein 23 – 1000 Brussels More Information
A witness to the history of the Municipality of Uccle, and listed since 1997, this cemetery is the resting place of a number of personalities, including the father of Tintin. Full of charm, it boasts some fine Art Nouveau sculptures.
Pavilion of Human Passions
This first monument by Victor Horta is not an example of Art Nouveau in its purest form. Rather it is a transition from the classical model to a more purified and powerful expression.. It is thus named after the marble sculpture of Jef Lambeaux, which it houses, and depicts the theme of happiness and the sins of humanity, dominated by death. Parc du Cinquantenaire [Jubilee Park] Royal Museums of Art and History, 10 - 1000 Brussels
The Art Nouveau neighborhoods of Brussels
Brussels has the richest and especially the most diversified Art Nouveau heritage of any city in Europe. Some 500 buildings and facades line the squares and streets of the capital and illustrate, each in its own way, the architectural talents of the Art Nouveau masters.
These buildings can be discovered by walking through the city and its neighborhoods, while at the same time appreciating the idea that the architects wanted to infuse into the urban landscape at the turn of the last century. So let us embark on the discovery of Brussels, and if our guide today is Art Nouveau, it can only serve as a nice pretext for wonderful strolls through a city full of surprises.
In the historical centre of Brussels, one can admire the finest Art Nouveau buildings erected during that period to house prestige shops such as: • The old Waucquez shops that specialized in the fabric trade, which now house the Belgian Comic Strip Centre (Rue des Sables – Horta);
• The old Wolfers shops close by (Rue d’Arenberg, 13 - Horta);
• The “Old England” shops, a department store that catered to elegant Brussels ladies in the first half of last century, better known today as the Musical Instruments Museum (Rue Montagne de la Cour – Saintenoy) which is famous far beyond Belgium’s borders;
• A more intimate creation to finish off this visit of the first neighborhood is a florist with a superb period window at 13 Rue Royale.
On the axis of the Rue Royale which, by way of reminder, is the major Brussels artery that links the Palace with the residence of the Kings of the Belgians in Laeken, lies the Municipality of Schaerbeek and its exceptional Josaphat Park. Walk down the fabulous Avenue Louis Bertrand and let your eyes feast on its superb facades, visit the Autrique House (Chaussée de Haecht, 266 - Horta) and continue to the Cité des Oliviers social housing estate (Rue de l’Olivier, 16-48 - Henri Jacobs), before taking some refreshment at the Ultieme Hallucinatie (rue Royale, 316 – Paul Hamesse). will publish a limited edition of a luxury album. An exhibition entitled The Delights of Department Stores, or Art Nouveau in the Comic Strip Section and based on the history of the Belgian Comic Strip Centre will run from December 2005 until April 2006, showing excerpts from comic strips that have used the Centre as a setting.
On no account should you miss two neighborhoods with a very bourgeois residential charm: the neighborhood of the squares, just a stone’s throw away from the European quarter, and the neighborhood of the Ixelles Ponds, where Cambre Abbey is tucked away. Two very green quarters that serve as reminders that Brussels is the greenest capital in Europe.
The neighborhood of the squares boasts real Art Nouveau masterpieces, including the:
We have now arrived at the Louise neighborhood that boasts quite a number of masterpieces, manorial residences built for an affluent and audacious segment of the Brussels intelligentsia, such as the:
These are only some of the ideas that will enable strollers to enjoy walking through some of Brussels’ neighborhoods and entice curious tourists outside the historical city centre. But to really discover this urban philosophy, we can only suggest that you take one of the quality tours organized by various associations, the details of which are given in the pages that follow
ART NOUVEAU WALKS
Early April to end of October
Every year, the six member associations of Brussels Show and Tell conduct an operation called “Summer Paths” every year, comprising some one hundred visits devoted to 60 different themes that reflect the richness and diversity of the architectural heritage of Brussels. Under “Brussels, Living Art Nouveau,” Brussels Show and Tell will, in addition to the standard visits, schedule a wide range of Art Nouveau tours throughout the city.
Brussels Show and Tell - Rue de Londres 15 - 1050 Brussels More information
RESTAURANTS AND BRASSERIES
Restaurant/Brasserie “De Ultieme Hallucinatie”
Royale Sainte-Marie, 316 1000
Restaurant "Le Falstaff" Rue Henri Maus, 17-23 1000 Brussels
Restaurant de l’Hôtel Métropole Place De Brouckère, 31 1000 Brussels
Brasserie “La Porteuse d'eau” Av. J. Volders, 44 1060 Brussels
Restaurant “Osteria Delle Stelle” Avenue Louis Bertrand, 55-57 1030 Brussels
Restaurant “La Buca di Bacco” Avenue Louis Bertrand, 65, 1030 Brussels
Restaurant “L’Ancienne Poissonnerie” Rue du Trône, 65 1050 Brussels
Restaurant “Vincent” Rue des Dominicains, 8-10, 1000 Brussels
Easy Tempo Rue Haute, 146, 1000 Brussels
Restaurant “Le Perroquet” Rue Watteeu, 31, 1000 Brussels
Salon de thé “Comptoir Florian” Rue Saint-Boniface, 17, 1050 Brussels
Editor's note: we are able to bring you this article, photos and illustrations through the courtesy of the Belgian Tourist Office in New York City.