Art Nouveau and Art Déco in Brussels
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Brussels went through a period of unrivalled effervescence. The city was beautified under the impetus of King Leopold II, new districts were divided into plots and turned into neighbourhoods in formerly suburban municipalities such as Ixelles, Schaerbeek or Saint-Gilles, the boundaries of which tend to merge with those of Brussels.
Naturally, the middle class, merchants and artists opted to have their houses built in the style in vogue: Art Nouveau. This style was launched in 1893 by two architects, Victor Horta and Paul Hankar: the Tassel House and Hankar’s own private home were the first tokens of a new aesthetic. The muse of metal structures allowed the architects to indulge in amazing innovation, and to open out the facades and the interiors to allow light to flood in.
Three types of motifs tend do predominate: the arabesque, the floral or animal pattern and the feminine silhouette. At the turn of the century, under the influence of the Viennese Secession, forms tended to become geometric, as circles were combined with squares with greater frequency.
Hundreds of houses, but also schools, cafés, and shops rivaled for originality. Craftsmanship in ironwork, wood, stained glass and mosaics attained the acme of quality. The buildings of Strauven, Vizzavona, Hamesse, Sneyers, Cauchie and many others turned Brussels into one of the European capitals of Art Nouveau, alongside Vienna and Barcelona.
The decorative arts would not be outdone: posters, gold and silver work, jewellery, ceramics and glassmaking would find their rightful place in the artistic salons – chiefly those of “Les Vingt” (The Twenty) and “La Libre Esthétique” (Free Aesthetic).
Under the influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement, of William Morris and Japan, the decorative arts, often referred to as minor in the past, were placed on equal footing with the Fine Arts: the decorative ensembles of Serrurier-Bovy and Van de Velde, the posters of Crespin and Privat Livemont, the jewellery of Philippe Wolfers, the ceramics of Finch and De Rudder would contribute to making daily life more beautiful. Articles in the decoration reviews of the period proclaimed art in all, and if possible, for all.
Whereas the blaze of Art Nouveau would burn bright for a dozen years or so before being followed by Art Deco, also very richly represented in Brussels, it still lives on in many streets of the Belgian capital.
Curator of the Horta Museum
Art Nouveau is present everywhere in Brussels, here are some buildings and visits you can't miss during your next stay.
From the end of the First World War, decorative exuberance is abandoned. More attention is paid to pure style, lines and angles.
The Art Déco generates new shapes, perfectly geometric. At the same time, several architects will revolutionise architecture by transforming houses into "machines to live in" where everything has to be functional