Art Nouveau in Brussels

Art nouveau logo

I went over to Brussels for a conference last week. As I’ve never been there before and like to see something of the places I visit on business I managed to tag on a little time by flying over early on the day before the conference started. Effectively I had just over half a day, which isn’t enough to see everything even though Brussels is a fairly compact city, so I decided that I’d concentrate on exploring some Art Nouveau buildings, of which there are plenty around Brussels. I’d done some research beforehand and also bought a leaflet of Art Nouveau walking tours from the tourist office in la Grande Place, so was able to work out a route over a sandwich and coffee.

Brussels is full of Art Nouveau buildings. The city had a major expansion at the end of the 19th Century when Art Nouveau developed, and it appears to have become fashionable for individuals and some organisations to have houses and other buildings constructed for them in the style. So there are concentrations of AN houses in a number of suburbs on the outskirts of the city. The walking map splits has itinearies covering the city centre and four suburbs. I had limited time so concentrated on looking around the city centre and also went out to the St Gilles suburb where there are a number of the most important buildings and where the museum dedicated to the leading AN architect,Victor Horta, is located.

Travelling round Brussels is fairly easy. The city centre itself is quite compact and can be explored on foot. There’s a good, cheap, public transport system with buses, trams and a recently expanded metro system. Although I took the metro out to the suburb, I travelled back to the city centre by tram which was the best way to travel as they were frequent, comfortable and had large windows which allowed me to take in some views during the journey.

I took the metro to the Horta station and then walked up the Chaussee Waterloo and then the Chausee Charleroi up to the Rue Americaine where the Horta Museum is located. The walk took about 10 minutes. However, it would have been better to take the tram – the museum is close to routes 81, 91, 92 and 97.

Victor Horta was a leading Art Nouveau architect who designed the first building in the AN style. The museum is in the house Horta designed for himself and where he lived between 1902 and 1919 (interrupted while he lived in exile during WWI). The outside of the building is not that remarkable compared to, say, the Hotel Tassel, but there are a number of interesting features – particularly the large windows, the ironwork balconies, the delicate wrought iron columns and the doors.

Horts's house - now the Horta Museum

Horta's house - now the Horta Museum

The museum actually occupies two buildings – the main house and the adjacent studio. Going inside allows you to get a feel for AN architecture and interior design. The house is built around a central staircase, lit by a large skylight, from which the main rooms could be accessed. The rooms have been restored and decorated in period style.

Unfortunately it was not permitted to take photographs but there are some the museum website and I bought a guidebook which is a good memento of the visit with lots of pictures.

My favourite parts of the house were the stairwell, the bedroom on the first floor and the “winter garden” conservatory on the second floor.

Hotel Tassel - the first Art Nouveau building

Hotel Tassel - the first Art Nouveau building

The Hotel Tassel was the fist Art Nouveau building, designed by Victor Horta in 1893-1894 for a wealthy scientist Emile Tassel. The most notable feature is the graceful, even sensuous, curved bow windows which Horta was able to include due to the use of stone for the facade.

The Hotel Solvay is another well known Horta building, designed for Armand Solvay, the son of Ernest Solvay, the inventor of the Solvay process.

Hotel Solvay

Hotel Solvay

There are many buildings scattered throughout the Saint Gilles district. I went to look at a few of them, recommended in the guidebook I’d purchased, on the Horta museum ticket and in guidebooks and on websites I’d researched prior to my trip.  There were a lot more to see, but time, and my feet, didn’t really permit me to see visit them.

Hotel Hannon

Hotel Hannon

This building, designed by Jules Brunfaut, houses the Musee de Contretype, which shows photographic exhibitions. I was hoping to take a look inside, but, unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Les Hibboux

Les Hibboux

Next door to the Hotel Hannon. The windows are particularly striking.

Maison Sander Pierron

Maison Sander Pierron

The house at 157 Rue de l’Aqueduc was designed by Horta for his friend Sander Pierron.  Due to budget constraints it is built in brick rather than stone, which limited the design options – no sensuous curves here. I liked the design though – the brickwork in red and white and the windows. The door ws an impressive feature, although I couldn’t get a decent photo because there was a car parked in the way. Some information on the building together with a picture of the house and a close up of the door can be found here.

Paul Hankar's house

Paul Hankar's house

Maison Ciamberlani - designed by Paul Hankar

Maison Ciamberlani - designed by Paul Hankar

83 Rue Faider

83 Rue Faider

After walking round Saint Gilles for a couple of hours my feet were beginning to ache, so I grabbed a coffee in a cafe near the Hotel Solvay and then took the tram back into the city centre.  I wandered around the centre for a while and included a visit to some more Art Nouveau buildings.

"Le peuple" building, Rue des Sables

"Le Peuple" building, Rue des Sables

This building, now housing a comic museum, used to be the offices of the socialist paper “le Peuple”.  Although most of the buildings I’d seen were built for wealthy individuals, there were some strong links between some of the Art Nouveau architects and the socialist movement. Horta himself was a member of the Worker’s party for a while and designed “la Maison du Peuple”, considered by many to be his most important work, sadly now demolished.

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Across the road is Horta’s Waucquez Store building, which now housed the Comic Strip Museum.  Entry to the ground floor spaces is free, so I popped inside for a look. (I would have paid to go into the museum proper, but it was almost closing time by the time I got there).

Inside the Waucquez Store building

Inside the Waucquez Store building

Inside the Waucquez Store building

Inside the Waucquez Store building

La Ultime Halucinatie

La Ultime Halucinatie

Restaurant , not far from le Gare du Nord. Apparently  the interior is particularly interesting, but I didn’t have time to go inside

4 thoughts on “Art Nouveau in Brussels

  1. Pingback: More on Art Nouveau in Brussels « Down by the Dougie

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  3. Pingback: Art Nouveau in Helsinki – Part 1 « Down by the Dougie

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