Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The European Capital of Art Nouveau: Brussels, Belgium


Tassel House stairway

Art Nouveau

This artistic movement, characterizing the aesthetic research and renewal of architecture and decoration in the west at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building - or later the rectangular lines of Art Deco.

Brussels is - beside Riga, Latvia, Vienna, Austria, and Glasgow, Scotland - a city with a huge amount of Art Nouveau buildings and interiors. If you are - like me - a fan of this end of 19th century’s architectural style, there are so many architectural gems and Art Nouveau artifacts to discover in Brussels.  Starting from the Fin-de-Siecle Museum, thousands of house facades throughout the city to open-house visits from Victor Horta, Couchie, to Art Deco Architect Josef Hoffmann buildings. 

Art Nouveau was most widely used in interior design, graphic arts, furniture, glass art, textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and metalwork.  What are the Art Nouveau characteristics?

  • Asymmetrical shapes
  • Extensive use of arches and curved forms.
  • Curved glass and curving, plant-like embellishments
  • Mosaics and stained glass
  • And Japanese motifs

Even the Musical Instruments Museum or the Belgian Comic Strip Center are presented in Art Nouveau buildings.  And then there are self-guided walks in several parts of the city.  The tourist information at the city hall and on the Royal Place sell useful maps describing walking tours, details about the buildings, and lots of images - available in English, French, Netherlands, German, and Spanish.  Despite significant public demand, few art nouveau venues are open to the public year-round in Brussels. 

Five House Museums

Maison Autrique, one of Victor Horta's earliest creations, was purchased by the municipality of Schaerbeek. restored and opened to the public in 2004, it presents decorations restored in the spirit of the period thanks to marvelous wallpapers in an original scenography based on the theme of the Belle Époque. it welcomes 7 to 10,000 visitors per year in various exhibitions and activities.

Charlier Museum: It is housed in a neo-classical mansion that shows the art collection of the patron Henri van Cutsem, which was transferred to the municipality of Sint-Joost-ten-Noode by his legatee, the sculptor Guillaume Charlier. between 1890 and 1893, victor Horta built two extensions to the rear of building 6.

Cauchie House was the personal home of the architect Paul Cauchie. Saved from destruction, it was restored and opened to the public in 1994, thanks to the persistence and boundless investment of its owners, Guy and Léo Decissy and their children.

Horta Museum, one of the most wonderful examples of Art Nouveau, opened for visitors from noon on, is situated on 25 Rue Americaine. It shows the architect's personal home as well as his work studio - a gem of art nouveau architecture. It is a self-guided tour, though there is a set route and the museum staff will ensure you follow it correctly. No photographs may be taken…

Solvay House: Between 1894 and 1898, this most prestigious of Art Nouveau mansions was built to the designs of Victor Horta for Armand Solvay, son of the famous industrial magnate.

Horta was given an unlimited budget, and created an interior full of visual fireworks, using noble and precious materials. The range of red and orange hues reinforces the luxurious and comfortable atmosphere. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Originally, these houses, which have become museums, were obviously not designed for mass visits. They must be protected, in particular by limiting access... So, it is necessary to sign up only well ahead before your visit!

TIP: Get an Art Nouveau Pass online and also get a map of Art Nouveau Walks

It offers you the possibility to do five Art Nouveau walks in Brussels on your own!  You will find information on emblematic buildings, on known or less known architects and on the various materials of Art Nouveau construction!

This was just a tiny excerpt from an upcoming book of Brussels gems. Stay tuned!



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