Brussels was one of the first centres of Art Nouveau thanks to Victor Horta’s innovative iron and glass constructions. These are especially remarkable in the interiors, but only a few (such as the Maison & Atelier Horta, now housing the Horta Museum) can actually be visited. Remarkable sgraffiti and mosaics can be found on many façades.
Brussels is also home to the greatest work of Vienna Secession, or perhaps of the whole Art Nouveau – Josef Hoffmann’s Stoclet Palace.
I have arranged the photos below chronologically so you can see how Art Nouveau developed in Brussels throughout the 1890s and 1900s. The portolio is made up of the most outstanding examples of the style in the city, but some less-known buildings are also included. I took the photos in June 2015 and November 2017. I would love to expand the collection with the photos of the interiors.
Check the map below for the locations of the mentioned buildings.
1. Maison Autrique
Chaussée de Haecht 266, Schaerbeek
Victor Horta, 1893
The home of engineer Eugène Autrique was the first town house designed by Horta. It was innovative for its decorative scheme, which did not refer to historical styles. The following characteristics that became to be typical of the Art Nouveau of Horta can be found here: fine iron pillars on the façade, a sgraffito, stained glass, mosaics, ornamentation of vegetal inspiration, and importance of natural light. The floor plan and the spatial composition, which were revolutionised by Horta in the almost contemporary Hôtel Tassel, remained, however, traditional here. Also, because the client wanted a simple home, Horta did not design all the interior details, like he did in most of his subsequent town houses.
2. Maison Hankar
Rue Defacqz 71, Saint-Gilles
Paul Hankar, 1893
Paul Hankar designed this house for himself. It has a traditional plan. Art Nouveau manifests in the decorative elements, such as the sgraffiti and the forged iron of the balconies. The sgraffiti were made by Adolphe Crespin. Under the cornice there are four of them. They depict birds, representing different times of the day. On the bay window there are cats and monks cresses. The stones and bricks are of contrasting colours.
3. Hôtel Tassel
Rue Paul-Émile Janson 6, Ixelles
Victor Horta, 1892-1894
This town house, constructed for Professor Émile Tassel, was the first true Art Nouveau building in the world.
Traditionally, Belgian town houses were constructed on a deep and narrow plot. A suite of rooms was located on the left side of the building, flanked by a narrow entrance hall with stairs and a corridor leading to a small garden at the back. From the three-room suite only the first and the last one had windows so the middle room, mostly used as a dining room, remained rather gloomy.
Hôtel Tassel was innovative in that the most important part of the plan was the central part of the building. It is a steel structure that contains staircases and landings that connect different rooms and floors. It has an impressive glass roof that brings natural light right in the middle of the building.
Horta’s use of materials was also new. The façade has classical elements like moldings and columns, but some of the latter are made of iron, not of stone as was usual in the private dwellings of the time. The entablature, too, is of metal, complete with exposed rivets. The novel use of metal is combined with a strong preference for glass. The bow window is another source of light and the different sizes of the windows indicate the functions of the different parts of the interior.
Horta also propagated the unity of architecture and interior decoration, designing most of the interior elements himself: the panels and windows of stained glass, the mosaic floors, the woodwork, and the furnishing. The decorative style based on whiplash lines which he used here had already appeared in his somewhat earlier Maison Autrique.
This building was a major boost for the Art Nouveau movement, and it influenced many architects all over Europe (of whom Hector Guimard came to be the most famous). Together with Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Hôtel Frison
Rue Lebeau 37, Sablon
Victor Horta, 1893-1894
This is another early work of Horta, constructed for his lawyer friend Georges Frison. The façade is made of white stone with horizontal stripes of blue stone. The slightly curved upper part of the framing of the entrance door gradually emerges from the traditional rectangular framing of the lower part. Above the door there is a square window with stained glass and a railing with whiplash lines.
The big window of the ground floor is not original. It was added in 1955. Before there stood a bow window with columns supporting the balcony. The corbels that make the outline of the balcony more sinuous are very elegant.
The interior is organised around a gallery that is lit from above.
5. Hôtel van Eetvelde
Avenue Palmerston 2-6
Victor Horta, 1895; extensions 1898-1899 and 1901
These three buildings belonged to Edmond von Eetvelde, minister of the Congo Free State.
The main house, located in the middle, on Avenue Palmerston 4, was constructed in 1895. Its façade was notable for the use of ‘industrial’ materials such as steel and glass. It has a central reception room that contains the house’s main stairway and receives additional light through a stained-glass dome. The dome is decorated with African-influenced vegetal forms and is supported by slender iron columns the top of each of which fans out like a palm frond. The other rooms are organised around this central reception area. Their interiors are probably Horta’s best.
The extension on Avenue Palmerston 2 is from 1898-1899. It has a beautiful sandstone façade with sensual window and door framings. The extension on Avenue Palmerston 6 is from 1901.
Hôtel van Eetvelde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Hôtel Ciamberlani
Rue Defacqz 48, Ixelles
Paul Hankar, 1897
This building was the home of Albert Ciamberlani, a Symbolist painter. The most striking elements of its façade are the horseshoe windows with elegant frames (cf. Bedő House in Budapest) and the sgraffiti, designed by Ciamberlani himself and executed by Adolphe Crespin. As typical with many Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels, the classical symmetry is broken off on the ground floor, where the entrance is on the side rather than in the centre. The façade reveals the nature of the rooms in the inside. Hankar was inspired by the rationalist theory of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, which explained that ornamentation has to be based on the structure and the façade has to reflect the plan and the internal organisation of the building.
7. Villa Kjobenhavn
Rue Souveraine 52, Ixelles
Gustave Strauven, 1899
This is one of the first projects of Gustave Strauven, who in 1899 was 21 years old. His later trademarks, such as very elaborate ironwork (see the corbels and railings) and the alternation of horizontal stripes of different colours (white and blue stone), are already apparent here. Art Nouveau is also visible in the sgraffito panels. The villa was built for a lawyer named De Valkeneer, who baptised it after the capital of Denmark. The rooftop loggia was added in 1989 in place of dormer windows.
8. Old England Department Store
Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, Quartier Royal
Paul Saintenoy, 1899
This building on Mont des Arts, which now houses the Musical Instrument Museum, began life as a department store. It is a beautiful girded-steel construction with a lot of glass. The ironwork is especially remarkable on the roof level of the building. There are also faïence friezes on the façade.
9. Kindergarten No. 15 of the City of Brussels
Rue Saint-Ghislain 40, Marolles
Victor Horta, 1897-1900
The main architect of the schools of Brussels in the Art Nouveau era was Henri Jacobs. This kindergarten, however, was designed by Victor Horta. It is his only school building.
The structure is composed of a higher central wing and two lower wings with classrooms. The highest part of the central wing contains a staircase. Its windows are separated by an orange mosaic panel and framed by two fine pilasters of different heights, both decorated with floral and whiplash motifs. The entrance to the building has a shape typical of Horta, and the awning above it has beautiful forged iron. The façade of the right wing has a panel of mosaics with an inscription that informs about the building’s functionality. The façade is predominantly made of white stone, with the exception of the base and the horizontal stripes here and there, which are of blue stone.
10. Hôtel Solvay
Avenue Louise 224, Ixelles
Victor Horta, 1898-1900
This building has a façade composition typical of Horta: symmetrical on the upper floors, asymmetrical on the ground floor. It is made of glass, iron, and natural stone, Horta’s favourite materials. There are two bay windows on the façade and a balcony between them.
The reception halls of the building – with a beautiful stained-glass dome – are separated from each other by glass dividers, which can be opened to form a space that covers almost the entire surface of the house. Its decoration was made together with the Belgian pointillist painter Théo van Rysselberghe. The owner of the house was Armand Solvay, a chemistry magnate, whose wealth made it possible to design the interior using precious materials (such as marble, onyx, bronze, and tropic woods).
The house is considered one of Horta’s masterpieces and is, together with Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
11. Maison Beukman
Rue Faider 83, Ixelles
Albert Roosenboom, 1900
On this façade there is a bow window on the level of the first floor and an elegant forged-iron balcony above it. The narrower side windows of the bow window are ornamented with stained glass. The sgraffito surrounding the third-floor windows — the work of Henri Privat-Livemont — is among the most beautiful in Brussels. On its sides there are two naked children behind branches of poppies. In the centre there is a female figure with closed eyes and a finger on her lips. It is a representation of the nocturnal silence, since poppies symbolise sleep.
12. Maison & Atelier Horta
Rue Américaine 23-25, Saint-Gilles
Victor Horta, 1898-1901
Horta designed his house and studio together, but they have their proper individualities, arising from their different functionalities, one being a private dwelling, another belonging to the public sphere. The most important part of the first building is its hallway. As usual with Horta, it forms the centre of the house and is lit by a stained-glass roof. The staircase is not divided by floors but ascends progressively, making the house look bigger that it actually is.
The building now houses the Horta Museum, which displays furniture, utensils, and art objects designed by Horta and his contemporaries as well as documents related to his life and time. It is one of the four town houses designed by Horta that are in the UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites.
13. Maison Saint-Cyr
Square Ambiorix 11
Gustave Strauven, 1901-1903
This flamboyant building was the home of painter Georges Saint-Cyr. It was often called Baroque Art Nouveau by the contemporaries, and the word Baroque was often used in a degoratory sense here. The façade is narrow, only 4 meters wide. Almost all the available spaces are covered by decorative elements. The wrought iron mimics vegetation.
14. Maison Sander Pierron
Rue de l’Aqueduc 157, Ixelles
Victor Horta, 1903
The owner of this house was writer, journalist and art critic Alexandre, or Sander, Pierron. The architect was Victor Horta. The façade is composed of red bricks completed by white bricks, forming polychromic patterns, which is quite rare with Horta. The windows of the two vertical parts of the building are located on varying heights. Other striking elements of the façade are the entrance door and the upper-floor balcony.
15. Apartment building with shops on Parvis de la Trinité 1-2
This eclectic building has three bays overlooking the Parvis de la Trinité and one bay on the side of the Rue de l’Amazone. The façade is made of blue and white stone and grey and red bricks. The sgraffiti are gold-coloured and have vegetal motifs typical of Art Nouveau.
16. Maison Cauchie
Rue des Francs 5, Etterbeek
Paul Cauchie, 1905
Paul Cauchie, who was an architect, painter and designer all at once, planned this house for himself and his wife Caroline Voet. Because of the visible location of the building next to the Cinquantenaire Park, the façade was supposed to advertise his and his wife’s work — sgraffiti and art teaching, respectively. On the smaller sgraffito in the centre of the first floor, a caryatid supports the words ‘Par Nous – Pour Nous’, a testimony of the fact that Cauchie worked together with his wife when it comes to the design and decoration of their home-workshop. Around and above the second-floor round window, there is a bigger sgraffito, depicting a group of women that represent architecture, fine arts and applied arts. The façade is linear and adorned with several geometric forms. One can notice the influence of the Glasgow School and Vienna Secession here.
17. Koekelberg Girls School
Rue Herkoliers 35-37, Koekelberg
Henri Jacobs, 1907-1909
Henri Jacobs designed a number of school buildings in and around Brussels. Influences of both floral and geometric Art Nouveau can be read on this façade. There are owls — symbols of wisdom — surrounded by flowers on the sgraffiti of the façade. The inner yard of the school has a metallic cover structure which is ornamented by a sgraffito frieze by Adolphe Crespin, depicting the five continents and their fauna. The apartments of the headmaster and the concierge also belong to the building.
18. Palais Stoclet
Avenue de Tervueren 279-281, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre
Josef Hoffmann, 1905-1911
The Palais Stoclet is probably my favourite Art Nouveau building in the world. Its owner was industrialist and art collector Adolphe Stoclet. The architect was Josef Hoffmann, a founder and one of the leading architects of the Vienna Secession. It is Hoffmann’s masterpiece, the most accomplished building of the Vienna Secession, one of the most refined and luxurious private houses of the 20th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Stoclet Palace is an asymmetrical building consisting of rectangular blocks with exaggerated lines and corners. The windows break through the line of the eaves. There is a conservatory on the rooftop and a geometrically arranged tower adorned with bronze sculptures of four nude males by Franz Metzner. The railings of the balconies have Secessionist ornamentation. The street façade looks austere, castle-like even. As seen from the garden, however, the palace reminds of a villa suburbana with its bay windows, balconies and terraces.
Hoffmann and his colleagues from the Wiener Werkstätte designed every aspect of the building, making it a powerful Gesamtkunstwerk. The interior of the building is decorated with marble paneling. It has upright geometric furniture and minimal clutter. There were many impressive artworks here, such as mosaic friezes designed by Gustav Klimt and carried out by Leopold Forstner as well as murals by Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel. A contribution of Koloman Moser has also been suggested.
The austere geometry of the Palais Stoclet marked a turning point in the Art Nouveau movement and foreshadowed Art Deco and Modernist architectures.
Many famous people visited the palace in its heyday, such as Jean Cocteau, Anatole France, Sacha Guitry, Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Diaghilev. It is still owned by the Stoclet family and cannot be visited.