The elegant, flowing style of Art Nouveau architecture is still alive in Brussels. Walking around the city provides many opportunities to view some magnificent houses.
I love curved lines in any kind of art, especially in architecture. My photographer’s eye is often drawn to these, so it’s very natural for me to like the Art Nouveau style and it characteristic whiplash lines. There is a lot of grace to this style and quite a bit of playfulness too.
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Art Nouveau encompasses decorative arts, architecture, graphic art, interior design and fine arts.
Brussels, Belgium, is where the architectural movement of Art Nouveau started. I didn’t know that before my visit to Belgium; I found out about it while I was there.
The style seems to be very much alive in Brussels, despite being declared a thing of the past back in 1910 or so, when Art Deco took its place. Walking around Brussels you can find plenty of Art Nouveau style houses and sometimes just a decorated door or window.
Here is a pretty succinct description of Art Nouveau in architecture: “The buildings were covered with ornament in curving forms, based on flowers, plants or animals: butterflies, peacocks, swans, irises, cyclamens, orchids and water lilies. Façades were asymmetrical, and often decorated with polychrome ceramic tiles. The decoration usually suggested movement; there was no distinction between the structure and the ornament.” (from Wikipedia)
Some of these old buildings in Brussels have been restored, while some will have to be taken care of if the city wants to preserve this cultural heritage.
Let’s take a little tour of some of the beautiful Art Nouveau creations in Brussels.
Just after arriving in Brussels, I found a guided tour of Art Nouveau in Brussels, which was fascinating. The guide, Roger Van Buynder, walked with us around the city and gave us a good introduction to the architectural style.
The most prominent name in the architectural Art Nouveau movement was Belgian architect and designer Victor Horta (1861 – 1947). He designed some of the better known Art Nouveau houses in Brussels. Some of his houses are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
One of these is his 1893 creation Hôtel Tassel. The word hotel is used here not as a place for visitors to stay in, but as a townhouse for the rich.
It is considered to be the first Art Nouveau building. Horta designed both the exterior and the interior of the house, with meticulous attention to detail.
Seeing this building, which is in private ownership now, with an unimpressive “for rent” sign on it, was aesthetically disappointing, but still you can see many beautiful details if you go closer to the building. It’s both flamboyant and somewhat reserved at the same time.
Victor Horta also designed Hôtel Solvay, another townhouse, on the lovely Avenue Louise in Brussels, with a balcony facing the avenue.
Today this is a private building and to visit it you will have to make a special appointment or make a reservation for a one hour tour, which takes place once every two months or so.
Victor Horta’s own house and studio is now a museum you can visit to see more of his creations.
Paul Hankar was another significant name in the movement in Belgium. He designed his own house in Art Nouveau style. The Maison Hankar is a very narrow house, with an impressive facade. I especially liked the playful animal illustrations near the top of the house.
Another Paul Hankar design is Hotel Ciamberlani. This townhouse features some nice Art Nouveau elements, like the gorgeous Horseshoe-shaped windows, and Sgraffiti designed by painter Albert Ciamberlani.
Sgraffiti is an ornamentation technique, where scratching through a surface reveals an underlying layer of a contrasting colour. It is typical of Art Nouveau, but also in other styles of architecture.
The Musical Instruments Museum
The MIM (Musical Instruments Museum) is right in the centre of Brussels and well worth a visit. The building is located in what used to be a luxury store called Old England, designed by Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy in Art Nouveau style. You can still see the sign saying “Old England” on the building. It’s an impressive creation to look at from across the road, and if you go inside, note the decorated staircases and ceilings.
Obviously, the guided tour I took couldn’t cover all the buildings in the city, only the highlights close enough to the city centre. After taking the guided tour, I found myself walking around and examining every building to find more. In some it might by only a decorated door or window, in others it was the entire house that drew my attention.
This is how I found the beautiful Cauchie House completely by chance near the Cinquantenaire Park. Paul Cauchie was an architect and fine artist, who specialised in sgraffiti for architecture. His wife, Carolina ‘Lina’ Voet, was also a fine artist.
The Cauchie House is the joint work of the couple. They built it to demonstrate their talents. It’s a beautiful example of how architecture, painting and decoration are combined in the Art Nouveau style.
There are many more great Art Nouveau houses you can discover around Brussels. I recommend taking the guided tour and also exploring by yourself.
Visit my Art Nouveau board on Pinterest to see more!
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