Brussels, Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau

(continuer en français) – Published: November 21, 2021

Art Nouveau by Victor Horta, Brussels

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is an architectural movement, mainly European, that developed from 1890 to 1910, later supplanted by Art Deco. It is mainly characterised by curved forms and the introduction of metal elements. Taking advantage of the new technical possibilities brought about by the Industrial Revolution, its designers sought to free themselves at last from the styles borrowed from Antiquity.

Art Nouveau only lasted for a short generation, with the break-up of the First World War quickly rendering it obsolete, before its elegant forms came back into fashion later on.

Victor Horta (1861-1947)

He was the most prominent architect of the Art Nouveau movement in Brussels, and several of his buildings are now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

As a young architect at the time when Art Nouveau was spreading, he embraced it and strove to make the most of it, both in terms of architecture and materials. He wanted to build complete works, and beyond the façade, he also designed the interior spaces, using glass windows to introduce light and metal columns to widen the spaces. He also designed the furniture in harmony with the style.

He left Belgium during the First World War. On his return he had to adapt to new fashions, he remained a recognised architect but he had lost his specificity.

Hotel Tassel – 1893

Victor Horta and Emile Tassel had known each other for several years when the latter decided to entrust him with the construction of his house in the rue Janson. Being confident with each other, Victor Horta proposed to build the house according to a very new model, inspired by the trends that were beginning to exist in Europe and which moved away from the traditional bourgeois homes.

The Hotel Tassel caused a sensation and launched the career of Victor Horta and Art Nouveau in Brussels. The curves of the decor do not become vegetal as elsewhere, but they break with the classical order. The metal columns allow large openings that bring light and lightness.

Hotel Solvay – 1898

Having gained the trust of the rich industrialist family, Victor Horta built or transformed several of their properties. For the Hotel Solvay on the Avenue Louise, he was given carte blanche and sufficient financial means to let his art flourish, not only in the architecture, but also in the interior decoration, including the furniture.

Stone is still preferred to brick because it allows the design of undulations. The architect even plays with the variation of two different tones to add to the decoration. The Hotel Solvay is now a museum, making it possible to visit the interior with its original furniture designed by Victor Horta.

Horta Museum – 1901

In 1898, Victor Horta bought two plots of land in the Rue Américaine, with the intention of building his home and his study there. The two buildings retain a distinct appearance, like a catalogue of his possibilities, but communicate internally and have a common garden at the rear.

The complex was completed in 1901, including workshops where the architect had casts made of his decorative elements to guide the craftsmen responsible for the final execution. The Horta House can be visited, unfortunately photos are not allowed inside.

Waucquez Warehouse – 1906

After his success in the construction of mansions, Victor Horta seems to turn with somewhat less enthusiasm to the commercial buildings he is commissioned to design. Their interior layout offered less subtlety than the meticulous arrangement of the residences.

The Waucquez fabric Warehouse, for example, have a simple façade, punctuated by large, barely worked arcades. The interior has two levels and mezzanines added later. The whole forms a single volume, generously lit by the large glass roof. The typical motifs of Victor Horta’s studio can be found in the composition of the staircase and landing railings.

The interior layout has been little changed for the installation of the new occupant of the premises, the Belgian Comics Art Museum.

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