” A work bearing my name without the need for my signature to be affixed to it”
At the turn of the 19th century, Brussels went through a period of un-rivaled effervescence. The city was beautified under the impetus of King Leopold II,
new districts were divided into plots and turned into neighborhoods in formerly suburban municipalities such as Ixelles, Schaerbeek or Saint-Gilles, the boundaries of which tend to merge with those of the City of Brussels proper.
Naturally, the middle classes, merchants and artists opted to have their houses built in the style in vogue: Art Nouveau, also known in English as “Modern Style.”
The use of metal structures allowed the architects to indulge in amazing innovations, and to open out the facades and interiors to allow light to flood in. Three types of motifs tend to 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.
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.
And It’s on a sunny afternoon that I receive a phone call at home from the Mr Charles Picque , the Minister- President of culture and tourism of Brussels- Capital also responsible for the so called BIP. Mr Pique addresses to me in Portuguese with a warm intent, I imagine, of making my stay in the European capital of culture and tourism very enjoyable.
” Joelle” – he says now in French – ” we are glad to invite you to our 2009 and fifth edition of the Art Nouveau Biennale truly hoping that you will find our cultural event as well as others we carry in the city quite interesting! ”
I thought Belgian people were cold but honestly Mr Pique is so charming that I’ am definitely drawn to learn more , after a pause almost as a professional actor he carries on: ” The circuit we are promoting at the moment is called Voir et Dire Bruxelles. Miss Nastasia Sellens will call you to set a time for you to come and visit us here at the recently inaugurated PIB that I assure you , you will much appreciate.”
Arriving at this wonderful renovated classic building at rue Royale ,the Lloyd a former bank, a very pretty, young and blue-eyed Nastassia comes in my direction with a large smile, fully equipped with a very organized and generous press kit, DV s and several well-designed brochures and a ‘ global passport’.
She introduces me to the president of Voir et Dire Bruxelles ,Isabelle Paellinck also very charming and visibly at ease with her role. My Belkin voice recorder, a few pencils, my Mosleskine notebook, and here we go in a strenuous half hour questions-and-answers about everything I should, I should not, I could or not visits during my stay the city over the next three weekends.
After digesting the substantial amount of information delivered by these two passionate monsters of efficiency I realize that there are good and very bad news.
The good news are that through a passport I will be able to examine the theme of “From Art Nouveau to Art Deco” offering me the unique opportunity to visit more than fifty interiors of buildings in Brussels gems from the inter-war years,
many of which remain relatively unknown, during these first four weekends of October. Among the most interesting architectural establishments and many splendid private mansions especially opened to the public, schools, industrial buildings, public buildings, more modest houses, hotels and shops and several of which have become part of the ‘UNESCO World Heritage List’ in 2000.
The bad news, is that I will not be authorized to photograph the interiors of any of the buildings designed by Victor Horta due to extensive and complicated copy-right regulations inflicted by the Horta family heirs to the public including the building owners.
Having received the news with deep frustration, my immediate reaction was to smile at these two young women and leave.
How could I work on a Brussels Edition if I cannot photograph myself the Horta Buildings and bring to thousands thirsty readers worldwide ? (Some of the pictures you see in this section are from the hotel Hannon, a very beautiful interior by the way.)
But looking at reassuring Nastassia and Isabelle, I realized of the importance of carrying on with the visit without worrying about this specific detail and focusing on the the importance of the such cultural and unprecedented event while understanding how these buildings have been preserved, inhabited and sometimes completely changed, while remaining remarkable witnesses to this priceless heritage.
Due to space and time restrictions, some of the interiors were only accessible by prior reservation.
Among those: Maison et Atelier Horta, Hôtel Ciamberlani, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel Max Hallet, Hôtel Otlet, old personal house of François Hemelsoet, Maison Eugène Leman, Maison Cauchie Cauchie’s self designed home,
Hôtel Van Eetvelde, Maison Frison, (today the extraordinary Tribal Arts and Antiques J Visser ) Ancienne Banque D’outremer, Maison Autrique, Maison privée rue Van Hasselt, Maison privée rue Lecharlier, Maison privée avenue Duray et la Villa Beau-site, Maison privée rue Monrose, Hôtel Astoria.
During the four weekends we also had access to this remarkable extended list of fascinating landmarks: I have tried to insert as many links as possible, with to transport you into this not-to- be- missed experience if you are in Brussels next time.
To list a few: Demeuldre factory , Coperta Atelier and the beautiful iron structure of this 1810 porcelain factory, former Aegidium movie with his eclectic 1905 facade and Moorish-Style dance -hall, former personal house of Adrien Blomme
whose building is laid on a cental open staircase,
Wielemans Hotel Former hotel of the Control of the Telephones and the Telegraphs prestigious Art Deco building that has High-quality interior offices, former Niguet store , Former RVS buildin and his superb stained-glass windows, , Former workshops of the Colpaert Master glassmaker , Hanse Office ,
Private House – rue Van Hasselt, Quaker House , Schools «La Ruche/Josaphat» designed by Henry Jacobs, Strauven House , three houses of Henri Jacobs,( absolutely beautiful) Hostel Eugène Leman Haus, Former printing house NIMIFI , Vaucquez Textile Shop ( now Belgian comic Strip Center).
Former building of Constancia Insurances , Former warehouse Wolfers Frères has a monumental staircase designed by Victor Horta, now a branch of KBC bank, Hotel Crowne Plaza –
Le Palace Hôtel with inspiration in the works of Gustav Klimt ,L’Archiduc , Medical Foundation Queen Elizabeth , Private House – rue F. Lecharlier , School Catteau -Victor Horta ,Tavern “L’Espérance” , Wine palace,
Blerot House along with other houses in the street,brings together beautiful elements of flowers and some period furniture, Boelens House, Delune House ,
Flagey – Former building of INR,( Newly inaugurated trendy cultural center) Former masonic lodge, Former overseas bank, Former warehouse Old England (MIM), Palace “La Folle Chanson“,Villa Bea (Charming facade). Finally, I wanted to include in this itinerary a 19th century, construction techniques, with the use of metal and glass as construction materials, made a new type of building possible: the greenhouse.
In 1873, architect Alphonse Balat designed for King Leopold II a complex of greenhouses which complement the castle of Laeken, built in the classical style. The complex has the appearance of a glass city set in an undulating landscape. The monumental pavilions, glass cupolas, wide arcades that cross the site like covered streets, are much more than an anecdote on the architectural applications of iron and glass or on little greenhouses of exotic plants.
Voir et Dire Bruxelles, (“Seek and Tell Brussels”) is a round-table group of the following themed cultural tourism associations: ARAU, Arkadia.be, Chatterbus, Itinéraires and Pro Velo. Each association has its own identity and specialism, which adds to the diversity of the round table.
Together, the five associations organize varied programmed of high-quality, themed, guided tours, either on request for groups throughout the year or for individual members of the public on fixed dates between March and December. Since it was set up in 1994, Voir et Dire Bruxelles has organized several joint-events, of which the most well-known and successful is the Biennial Art Nouveau Event.
Maybe I was not allowed in certain places to make use good use of my camera, but certainly tried and hopefully achieved to- Seek and Tell- about the Art Nouveau and Deco loud and hidden atmosphere in Brussles to all those of you who have chosen to follow this post from different parts of the globe.. I truly hope you enjoyed the ride.
The organizations: Voir e Dire Bruxelles 2/4 , rue Royale B-1000 Bruxelles /Tel +32 (0)2563 6151 /Fax 32 ( 0) 2 563 6161 / for other tours: email@example.com
BIP: 2/4 , rue Royale B-1000 Bruxelles /
Photo Credits: All photos representing the works of Victot Horta are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 and public domain. Ecxept courtesy who of photographers, Henry Townsend, François Bernardin, Mary Sullivan , J Visser Gallery. Other Credits Albert Videt
Need to through a party in the same atmosphere? Choose Events at Horta at the magnificent Hôtel Max Hallet Avenue Louise 346 1000 Bruxelles / Tel: 02 648 81 11 / Fax: 02 646 71 11 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Vivre l’Art Nouveau by Françoise Aubry, Curator of the Horta Museum, Brussels