A new artistic style was born in Brussels around 1890 under the impulse of its great precursor, architect Victor Horta. This revolutionary movement was called Art Nouveau, and it meant an opposition to the previous academic formalism. It influenced not only the architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also all art forms of this era, from furniture to decorative objects, jewellery, painting or sculpture.
THE HOTEL TASSEL
It was built by Victor Horta in 1893 and it is often considered to be the founding building of the Art Nouveau movement. It is a building which already shows the great hallmarks of this style.
The nature, its shapes and curved lines become central themes as opposed to the rigidity resulting from industrialisation. However, Art Nouveau uses materials such as iron or steel, but with a totally transgressive function. Now these materials, together with some others such as glass, are used in the external parts of buildings, but this time they are not structural elements, but decorative ones.
OTHER ARCHITECTS FROM VICTOR HORTA SCHOOL
Together with Victor Horta, there are some other important architects of the Belgian Art Nouveau such as Paul Hankar, Henry Van de Velde, the Delune brothers, Ernest Blerot or Paul Cauchie, among others.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN BRUSSELS
Among the rich Art Nouveau heritage in Brussels, and despite significant losses such as the Maison du Peuple de Victor Horta, there are four remarkable buildings designed by the same architect which, in 2000, became World Heritage Sites: Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvey, Hôtel Van Eetvelde and the House of Victor Horta.
We might be surprised by the fact that many of these houses are called Hôtel. These houses are also called Maisons de Maitre or large houses of wealthy families, which often had several floors and a garden. Many of these homes were commissioned by industrialists, intellectuals and artists of that time, who chose Art Nouveau and architects like Victor Horta as a reflection of their progressive spirit and their desire to translate it into their residences.
A STYLE WHICH SET A TREND
Private homes in Brussels were not the only buildings which were designed in the Art Nouveau style. Shopping centres such as Old England were also built in this style, as a way to ensure visibility in their shop windows and products. Also during this period of social changes the Art Nouveau style was used to build schools, called Maison du Peuple. Architects used the new techniques in lighting and ventilation from Art Nouveau to design buildings with a healthier environment.
A TOUR AROUND THE ART NOUVEAU DISTRICT
It is a tour around dancing buildings. As stated above, the Art Nouveau historical heritage in Brussels is huge. Perhaps the easiest way to try to understand the importance of this style for the European capital is to organise this heritage by different neighbourhoods. This is an interesting way which serves to guide us among these wiggly buildings whose forms make us think they are dancing ... So, get ready for this exciting dance!
Some districts in Brussels such as Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Etterbeek and Schaerbeek were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau. So, even though during the 50s and 60s some buildings were demolished, there are still numerous buildings of this style.
ART NOUVEAU NEIGHBOURHOODS IN BRUSSELS
House of Victor Horta: Private house and atelier of the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta, built by himself between 1898 and 1901. It is one of the key works of Art Nouveau, signed by its great predecessor. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. Today, it houses the Museum Victor Horta, where you can see much of the furniture and decor of the building.
Rue Americaine, 25. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 14 to 17.30h. The admission fee is 8 euros for adults and 4 euros for students. Nearby transport: bus 54 and trams 81,91,92 and 97 (stop Janson).
Hôtel Wissinger: A notable Art Nouveau hôtel de maître built by Victor Horta between 1894 and 1897 for the engineer Camille Winssinger. In 1928-29, Horta himself carried out a project to remodel the building façade and interior. It currently houses the art gallery Paris-Beijing.
Hôtel de Monnaies, 66. Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 11 to 19.00h. Admission is free. The closest subway lines are 2 and 6 (stop Hôtel de Monnaies).
Hankar House: Built by architect Paul Hankar in 1893 as his private residence. The Art Nouveau is present here especially in the façade’s decorative elements, with its wonderful sgraffito.
Rue Defacqz, 71. This building is closed to visitors. Tram 92, 97, 81 and 83 (stop Janson).
Hôtel Hannon: Hôtel de maitre built in 1903-1904 by the Belgian architect Jules Bunfaut for Édouard Hannon, an engineer and an intellectual of that time. The Hannon family lived here until 1965. During the 80s it was completely renovated and today it houses the Contretype Photography Museum, which also has photographs of Édouard Hannon.
Avenue de la Jonction, 1. Open from Wednesday to Friday from 11 to 18.00h and weekends from 13 to 18.00h. The admission fee is 3 euros. Tram 81, 97 (stop Janson), 92 (stop Ma Campagne) and bus 54 (stop Ma Campagne).
Restaurante La porteuse d'eau: It is an Brussels old-fashioned brasserie located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building.
Avenue Jean Volders, 48. Open from 11 to 21.00h and weekends until 23.00h. You can take the buses 136 and 137 and trams 3, 4 or 51 (all stopping at Porte de Hal).
Hôtel Tassel: It is a very remarkable work of Art Nouveau and Horta style in Brussels and one of the first ones the architect designed, in this case for his friend Émile Tassel, professor at the Free University of Brussels. The building, which was completed in 1893 and was declared in 2000 a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses today a law firm, and this is the reason why it is closed to visitors.
Rue Paul-Émile Janson, 6. Trams 93 and 94 (stop Defacqz or Bailli).
Hôtel Solvey: Built between 1895 and 1903 by Victor Horta for the Belgian industrialist Armand Solvey, who gave him total freedom to develop his creativity without budget limits. The family Solvey stood out as sponsors of artists from that time, especially of the Art Nouveau movement. Also declared as a World Heritage Site, it is now owned by a private entity, so visits are only possible in group reservations.
Avenue Louise, 224. Trams 93 and 94 (stop Bailli).
Hôtel Ciamberlani: This house was made for the Symbolist painter Albert Ciamberlani by architect Paul Hankar in 1897. Its symmetry, circular windows and sgraffito are remarkable elements in the building. Its restoration was finished in 2009. It is currently a private space that you can visit only with group reservations.
Rue Defacqz, 48. Trams 93 and 94 (stop Defacqz).
The Museum of Musical Instruments: The ancient Old England department store, built by architect Paul Saintenoy in 1899, houses today one of the largest musical instruments museums in the world, with over 8,000 pieces. It is one of the most spectacular Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels, which also features an impressive rooftop restaurant situated on the top floor, where access is for free.
Montagne de la Cour, 2 (Mont des Arts). Open from Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 to 17.00h. During the weekend it opens half an hour later. Admission is 12 euros for adults, seniors 9 euros and students 2 euros. You can get there on buses 38, 71, 27 and 95 (stop Royale) and trams 92 and 93 (stop Royale).
The Brussels Comic Museum: It is located in a building designed by Victor Horta, built in 1906 for Waucquez stores. It became a museum in 1989. It chronicles the history of the Belgian comic from the early twentieth century to the present day, with celebrities such as Tintin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke; and artists like Hergé. It also has a nice brasserie.
Rue de Sables, 20. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 18.00h. Admission is 8 euros for adults and 6 euros for seniors. Easy access by tram (92 and 93), or by metro, lines 2 and 3 (all of them stopping at Botanique).
Falstaff and Le Cirio Restaurants: Two fine examples of Art Nouveau in Brussels on both sides of the Bourse building. The first was built in 1903 by E. Houbion. The famous Brasserie Le Cirio, frequented by iconic Brussels inhabitants like Jacques Brel, was built earlier and it was restored in 1909 by Henri Coosemans.
Falstaff, Rue Henri Maus 17-19. Open from 11 to 2.00h. Trams 3, 4, 31 and 32 (stop Bourse)
Le Cirio, Rue de la Bourse 18-20. Open from 10 to 00.00h. Trams 3, 4, 31 and 32 (stop Bourse).
Maison Cauchie: It was built by artist and illustrator Paul Cauchie as his private residence in 1905. It is a beautiful Art Nouveau work in which Cauchie, famous for his sgraffito, used the building’s façade as an advertising panel for his talent and for that of his wife.
Rue de Francs, 5. Open the first weekend of each month from 10 to 13.00h and from 14 to 17.30h. During the summer months, it is also open on Tuesdays from 18 to 21.00h . Admission is 5 euros. You can access by metro, lines 1 and 2, trams 81 and 83, and buses 22, 27, 61 and 80 (all of them stopping at Merode).