Saturday, 27 August 2016
Dotted around Brussels are some spectacular Art Nouveau buildings put up between 1893 and 1914. The new style first saw the light of day in Ixelles where architects such as Victor Horta and Paul Hankar designed astonishing private houses for rich clients unlike anything seen before.
More than 1,000 houses were built in Art Nouveau style in Brussels, but many were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s. Some 500 examples have survived, including department stores, cafes and private houses. Their exquisite ironwork and stained glass still catch the eye as you wander around neighbourhoods such as Place Saint Boniface and the Ixelles Ponds.
Look out for Voir et Dire’s Victor Horta tour season for summer 2016, which offers five different one-hour visits inside the most striking Art Nouveau town houses in Ixelles. One tour allows you to step inside the gorgeous Max Hallet House where the highlights include a sweeping staircase and glass conservatory (next tour 15 October). Another tour (5 November) takes you behind the closed door of the sumptuous Solvay House, built by Victor Horta for the rich industrialist Armand Solvay.
Here are seven stunning buildings that you can admire from the street and sometimes get inside.
The most famous Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta, built himself a house and studio in St Gilles commune from 1898 to 1901. It became a museum in 1969, offering a chance to explore a gorgeous interior that has survived virtually intact. Horta designed everything from the door handles to the astonishing skylight at the top of the house. One of the most beautiful buildings in Brussels, it was used as a location in the 2016 film The Danish Girl. You might have to queue to get inside, but it is worth the wait.
Rue Américaine 25, St Gilles
Tel 02 543 04 90, www.hortamuseum.be
Gustave Strauven designed this exceptionally narrow house on Square Ambiorix in 1903. The architect created a madly over-decorated façade of curving iron and stone. You can see other extraordinary buildings by this neglected architect in the exhibition Moi/Ik Gustave Strauven, in the Halles St Géry, beginning on 9 September.
Square Ambiorix 11, European Quarter
This beautiful house, recently restored by its owner, was built by Paul Hankar in 1897. It was originally occupied by the Symbolist painter Albert Ciamberlani, who painted several dreamy murals on the main staircase in St Gilles town hall.
Rue Defacqz 48, Ixelles
This is a remarkable Art Nouveau house built by architect and decorator Paul Cauchie in a quiet side street near the Cinquantenaire park. The architect added painted panels on the façade to advertise his skills as a decorator. The house is normally open to the public on the first weekend of each month.
Rue des Francs 5, Etterbeek
LA PORTEUSE D’EAU
A beautiful café on two floors with stained glass windows and a spiral staircase. It occupies an Art Nouveau building designed by Ernest Blérot, whose signature is carved on a stone to the right of the entrance. The same architect designed all the houses running along the north side of nearby Rue Vanderschrick, as well as several in Avenue Jean Volders. But the interior of La Porteuse d’Eau, although it looks Art Nouveau, is a modern replica.
Avenue Jean Volders 48, St Gilles
Paul Saintenoy designed this flamboyant Art Nouveau department store in 1899. It was commissioned by a British company that ran a department store called Old England aimed at rich British residents. Saintenoy created a stunning glass and wrought iron building with a roof garden and a curious corner turret. The store finally closed down in the 1970s and the building was abandoned for many years before being turned into a Museum of Musical Instruments. The interior still has some Art Nouveau touches including an ancient iron lift.
Montagne de la Cour 2, Central Brussels
Tel 02 545 01 30, www.mim.be
This striking Art Nouveau corner house was built by Jules Brunfaut in 1902 for the engineer Eduard Hannon. The interior includes a wistful smoking room with a large bay window and several fin-de-siècle frescos. It is currently closed for renovation work, but you can still admire the outside of the building.
Avenue de la Jonction 1, St Gilles
Tel 02 538 42 20, www.contretype.org
COMIC STRIP MUSEUM
Victor Horta built several Art Nouveau department stores in Brussels, but just one has survived. The former Waucquez department store is now occupied by the comic strip museum. A small photo exhibition on the ground floor is dedicated to Art Nouveau buildings destroyed in the 1960s.
Rue des Sables 20, Central Brussels
Tel 02 219 19 80, www.cbbd.be