Art Nouveau plays an important part in our beautiful capital city, Brussels. The Belgian Art Nouveau rose when Belgian architects reacted against academicism at the end of the nineteenth century. Since 1893 many Art Nouveau buildings were constructed across the capital. Not only our architecture has been influenced by the Art Nouveau, but also our history. Belgium was the second industrial power of the world during that time. Lots of laborers suffered from food shortages, long hours, inflation and wages that didn’t follow the rising prices. After the Belgian Workers Party won the elections in 1894, the famous Victor Horta designed the ‘Palace’ (see picture 1).
The construction took place between 1896 and 1898. The roof was made of glass and steel, and on the lower levels were shops and taverns. The other floors contained offices, halls for multiple purposes and a big event hall (see picture 2) which could welcome 300 guests.
Also known as ‘The Maison du Peuple’, it symbolized the social issues that came during the industrial revolution in Belgium and became the headquarters of the previous named political party.
The Art Nouveau style of the ‘Palace’ was intended to be in tune with progressive thinking, as Horta was an architect who made radical changes to traditional architecture.
Unfortunately, the building was demolished by the government, today the Blaton Tower stands where the ‘Maison du Peuple’ stood in the 19th century. No worries you can still spot some of he last remains of the ‘Palace’ if you visit the Horta metro station located in Saint-Gilles.
Let’s talk more about Victor Horta. He is without doubt the most well-known Art Nouveau architect in Brussels. You can admire his influence in many neighborhoods in Brussels. Victor Horta was born in Ghent in 1861, son of a shoemaker. He showed an early interest for architecture and started his education when he was only twelve years old. He studied architectural drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts in the city of Ghent while still attending high school.
In 1893, Horta could finally show what he was capable of. He got two big tasks which led to the construction of buildings like The Solvay Hotel, Hotel Van Eetvelde and more. Horta became financially more stable and could afford to build his own house and private studio. He built his private house first in the Rue des Américaines in Sint-Gilles and later his studio right next to it. These two buildings are to be admired today as the Horta Museum, a unique museum experience to have a look in the life of Victor Horta.
What makes the Horta Museum so unique is that everything is designed by the man himself. When I say everything, I really mean everything. The doors, staircases, windows, furniture, everything in the two houses has been designed by Victor Horta.
The Horta Museum opened in 1969 at the insistence of Jean Delhaye, a student of Victor Horta. Delhaye spend a lot of money on the preservation of his master’s work. Jean himself saved the Tassel, Dubois and van Eetvelde houses from demolition. Today the Delhay foundation still exists and still strives for the conservation of Horta’s work.
Hotel Tassel, which was built in 1893-1894 was the first building that gave Horta his breakthrough. Emile Tassel, a fellow architect asked Horta to create his own private house, suited for a single man. Despite the fact that traditional houses in Brussels had the entrance door positioned on the side, Horta put the door in the middle. This new style of architecture already hinted that Horta’s style was something no one’s ever seen before.
He said in his memoirs (Dubois, 2018) that he finally got rewarded for his long years of hard work. His main assets were the un-traditional style of architecture he applied.
Armand Solvay – head of a soda family business – trusted Horta with the design of his private mansion. With an unlimited budget, Horta embarked on this challenge which resulted in one of his masterpieces. Constructions started in 1898 and were finished in 1903 after the last pieces of furniture were delivered. The mansion had private rooms, business rooms, servant’s quarters, large dining rooms, everything Mister Solvay dreamed of. Horta designed every little detail just like his own house and studio. Today the building is only exceptional open for visitors or small events due to conservation purposes.
HOTEL VAN EETVELDE
The demand for this building came from Edmond van Eetvelde, he used to be the Secretary of State of the Republic of Congo. He wanted Horta to design his private home for him and his family. Edmond preferred having a large dining room and a large living room so he could welcome lots of guests in his house. Horta created this huge area were the diner and living room were divided by a giant pavilion which is absolutely fascinating. The dome is made out of glass and imitates a sort of ‘winter garden’. When u want to reach the dining room you have to make your way around the pavilion. Caused by this detour, Horta made the building seem bigger than it is in reality.
Hotel van Eetvelde, Hotel Solvay, Hotel Tassel and the Horta museum are all listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2000.
CENTRAL STATION OF BRUSSELS
The central train station of our capital city is the busiest in the country, on a weekday over 60 thousand passengers make their way through this building designed by Victor Horta. Unfortunately, Horta never saw his design coming to life because of his death in 1946. Another Belgian architect named Maxime Brunfaut took over Horta’s job, and constructed the train station. Horta designed a special room for the Belgian King where he could wait in all luxury and style. Walls of marble lead the way to the royal chambers. Despite the beautiful constructed area, it has never been used by the King except on the day of the inauguration. (Volkshuis Brussel, 2019)
To celebrate the Art Nouveau style, the city of Brussels organizes an annually festival called ARTONOV. Professional artists and youth from Belgium and all over the world come together to collaborate, in Art Nouveau style.
Their ambition is to bring the arts and the performance arts together and create creative, original and innovative projects It results in a festival where music, dance, theatre, fashion and visual arts come together and create one big artistic event. The festival creates a platform where these artists can reconnect to the concept of ‘total art. This year ARTONOV takes place from the seventh until the thirteenth October.
Ticket prices vary between €13 and €20 and are available online.