Art Nouveau on the Go
Image by Laika ac under Creative Commons License.

Belgium, Brussels Guide (A): Art Nouveau on the Go

Feast your eyes on some of the most splendid examples of the Art Nouveau movement in Brussels. This walk follows a swathe of urban sprawl through St. Gilles and Ixelles, two communities that boast various buildings in the sumptuous and organic architecture that is Art Nouveau. Drink in the details of facades and interiors designed by Horta, Hankar, Brunfaut, Blerot and others. And along the way, you'll get a taste of authentic Brussels.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Art Nouveau on the Go
Guide Location: Belgium » Brussels
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Porte de Hal/Halleport/Halle Gate   Rue Vanderschrick   Maison de Beck   Hôtel Hannon   Horta Museum   Rue Faider 83   Paul Hankar's town house   Hôtel Ciamberlani   Hôtel Tassel   Hôtel Solvay   Blerot and Beyond  
Author: Oliver Karsten
Author Bio: I am a creative German-American,who has been living in Europe for the past 6 six years. To continue and crown my deepening love-affair with Europe and keep my sense of individual freedom, I have worked on a freelance basis as a teacher of English, translator, proofreader, editor and most recently journalist. Exploring and celebrating this dense, multi-faceted continent is a chief passion of mine. And I do so through its landscapes, literature, architecture, cuisine and of course, its people.
1
Porte de Hal/Halleport/Halle Gate

1) Porte de Hal/Halleport/Halle Gate

So this is Porte de Hal, our first stop. I know it’s not Art Nouveau, but this medieval city gate is still impressive and it serves as a great entrance into St. Gilles, our destination. Originally built in 1381, the gate has been restored on various occasions throughout its history. The most famous and drastic of these was carried out by architect Henry Beyaert between 1868-1870. Go ahead and take a walk around the gate and you can see for yourself all the changes. It’s quite two-faced, isn’t it? The side facing the center of Brussels is typical of the Neo Gothic style with its turrets and conically capped tower. But in stark contrast to that, the opposite side facing St. Gilles is much closer to the original medieval architecture. Now, the gate also houses a part of the Royal Museums of Art and History, where you can see a variety of armor and learn all about the gate's history if you are so inclined. And of course there’s an excellent panorama of the city from atop the battlements.
Image by Thomas Deppe under Creative Commons License.
2
Rue Vanderschrick

2) Rue Vanderschrick

Ok. After a short walk down the Chausée de Waterloo you should be standing next to a warm, attractive building to your right with colorful sgraffiti panels near the top and small balconies fenced by black, twisted grillwork. Its number 13. And just around the corner is the Rue Vanderschrick. You’re now in the shabby but boisterous part of St. Gilles, in case you haven’t noticed. Go ahead and take a right and walk up and down the block, from houses 1-25. As you can see, the street is a veritable ensemble of ornamented architecture from bygone days. Both sides of the street offer a row of brick buildings that boast Art Nouveau elements, however, the odd numbered houses were designed by architect Ernest Blerot. Look at all the bay and oriel windows, each has its own character, its own specific design and details. Look at the sgraffiti panels garnishing the facades, there are fine samples of bright floral motifs everywhere. Sure, some of the buildings have seen better days, but not all of them have been completely neglected. Number 5, for example has a handsome door with exquisite ironwork incorporated into it. And at the other end of the block there is a café, La Porteuse D’eau, which has a sumptuous interior that will surely take you back to the movement’s glory days.
Image by Lin Mei under Creative Commons License.
3
Maison de Beck

3) Maison de Beck

Look at that. Go stand directly across from the Maison de Beck by Gustave Strauven. It’s nearly impossible to miss. In fact the polychrome wonder leaps out at the viewer with a color scheme that is borderline garish: elaborate grillwork in mint green, the clever use of red and white bricks, the white and grey-blue stone, the mullions and the transoms in jonquil yellow. It’s an eclectic spectacle. Now, note the stained glass transom on the fourth floor, on the left. It’s almost unobtrusive in comparison to everything else. Spanning two floors, and perhaps the main feature, the trapezoidal oriel windows, supported by brackets, pilasters and balusters, all aligned, make possible the small balconies on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors. Now, the dominant projection of the structure is beautifully offset by the delicate steel column toward the left linking two floors. The building terminates in a mansard with two mismatched dormer windows, the one on the right being an exuberant affair flanked by two stylized arches. Can you spot the so-called Phrygian caps dotting the roof and brickwork? They are a peculiarity that is all Strauven. For all its asymmetry and unevenness, the Maison de Beck, completed in 1902, resonates with a playful but subtle harmony. Some might say it is incompatible with its immediate neighbors, but maybe that’s a good thing in this case.
4
Hôtel Hannon

4) Hôtel Hannon

This splendid construction, completed 1903 should be on your left at the corner of the street. Eduard Hannon entrusted his friend, architect Jules Brunfaut to design his home, which would be Brunfaut’s only attempt in the Art Nouveau style. Nowadays, the place houses a gallery of photography. The opening hours are just a wee bit limited - Wednesday to Friday, from 11 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 6 pm. And it’s closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and on Public Holidays. But, it only costs 2.50 euros to get a peek at the remaining lavishness inside. But before entering, let your eyes roam over the shapely beauty of the brick and stone façade. The dark, liquid bay window is a curved jewel set in a frame of light stone. Now cross the street to get a good look at the main corner which rises up rather like a tower, flowing and yet stately, the windows and balcony in fluent harmony with each other. Near the top, there is a strip of stone delicately hewn with a ghost of a sculpture in relief by Victor Rousseau. It may come as a surprise, but this architectural gem was scheduled to be demolished but was saved when it was purchased by the St. Gilles municipal authority. The partially embellished interior contains frescos by painter Paul-Albert Bouduin, one in the smoking room and one accompanying the magnificent staircase. Unfortunately, most of the furnishings have been removed, but the stained glass windows are simply breathtaking. Raphael Evaldre, who also worked with Victor Horta, was the craftsman who executed these works of art in the Tiffany style. And right Next door to the hotel on Ave Brugmann is the Owl’s House, Les Hiboux, which is worth a good look as well.
Image by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT under Creative Commons License.
5
Horta Museum

5) Horta Museum

At last, here is the much-acclaimed Horta Museum, which is open from 2-5:30pm everyday, excluding Mondays and major holidays. Entrance costs 7 euro. If you can, visit it during the weekdays when it less crowded and then you can really sink into the fluent atmosphere created by the lush, gorgeous details. Completed in 1902, the museum actually comprises two adjoining buildings, one was his home, in which he lived until 1919, and the other was his studio. Viewing the building from the outside, it looks deceptively straightforward with its basic two-tone face and its mildly conservative use of ironwork. But Victor Horta was an unrivaled master of the interior, which is where his genius is fully expressed. Upon entering you will be borne into a refined and flowing world of staircases, stained glass, windows and sculptures. Iron, wood and a variety of other materials have been shaped into sumptuous masterpieces. Every mundane aspect inside the house is recast in the graceful mold of art, so take your time and soak up this Art Nouveau treasure.

On the way to the next sight, you’ll pass by a large church and to the left, at Rue African 92 is a warm, tawny town house by Benjamin de Lestre de Fabribeckers, built in 1904. Though narrow, each floor has a unique composition and maximizes the space available without losing symmetry. Notice the horseshoe window rimmed in brick and stone, opening onto the balcony.
Image by J. Miers under Creative Commons License.
6
Rue Faider 83

6) Rue Faider 83

As you can see, number 83 merits a stop. Architect Alfred Roosenboom put this beauty up in 1900 and though it is slightly rundown, the sgraffito at the top was restored in the early 1990’s. The original doors, of varnished oak and adorned with sharp, curving ironwork, are excellent examples of the harmony of materials beheld through the Art Nouveau vision. Notice how a single, elegant console rises up and out of the façade to hold the bay window. The liquid bay window is set in a white-themed structure consisting of metal columns with fanciful capitals clasping a horizontal girding. Atop the bay window is the balcony with its one-of-a-kind railing. Widening out at the base, it is both spidery and fantastic. The ironwork sharp and curved and exuding an almost foreboding sensation. Above the floor with windows set in curved mullions, is the sgraffiti, which frames a row of windows reminiscent of the Hôtel Ciamberlani. In the center there is a female figure, eyes-closed, holding a finger up to her lips in a gesture of asking for silence. The two children on the outer edges also have closed eyes. A tangled and flourishing poppy fills in the space and there are four glittering stars on the left and three on the right. Interpretations are more than welcomed.
Image by Busoni under Creative Commons License.
7
Paul Hankar's town house

7) Paul Hankar's town house

Built by Paul Hankar in 1893, the same year as Horta’s Hôtel Tassel, this house was an answer to Horta’s floral and organic style. Hankar relied much more on geometric designs. The bay window’s individual glass panes are all rectangular. And notice how the rigid grillwork fences in two panels of art, a plant and animal scene. Rather reminiscent of a small garden behind a fence. See how the bay window’s pilasters are also fluted in a rectilinear way. On the right side, brown brick outlines a series of windows with a certain amount of regularity. But it’s not all straight-lined geometry: the balcony has a repetitive circular motif in its railing and the delicate beams connecting to the cornice end in widening flourishes. Go stand under the bay window, between the solid and yet flowing brackets, which are also known as consoles. Each bracket has two creatures carved into its inner and outer side. Look directly up and you’ll see the bottom of the bay window is also decorated with floral motifs. Now walk back across the street to get a good view of the cornice at the top. Just below the cornice in a kind of frieze bordered by blue stone, you can see sgraffiti in shallow recesses under arches. Three birds and a bat. They are allegories of time, from left to right: morning, day, evening and night. And, I am sure you have noticed the dilapidated dormer on the roof, it was added later and not part of the original plan.
Image by Busoni under Creative Commons License.
8
Hôtel Ciamberlani

8) Hôtel Ciamberlani

Here is the impressive Hôtel Ciamberlani, returned to its proper splendor. For many years it was a rundown thing, nearly a ruin when, in 2004, a family of Art Nouveau enthusiasts bought the house and set about restoring it, a painstaking but rewarding process that took years. Paul Hanker was hired to design the building for painter Albert Ciamberlani, a gift from the artist’s mother to her son. It was finished in 1897. Years later in 1927, Chiamberlini moved out, and as all things Art Nouveau were out of fashion, architect Adrien Bloome, at the behest of the new owners, made various changes to the interior and the rear of the building. However, it is the magnificent façade that continues to attract visitors. The first floor sports a mild asymmetry with its four windows. But it is the second floor that mesmerizes the beholder. The two large horseshoe windows, rimmed in beautiful brickwork, are simply awe-inspiring. They testify to the influence of Chinese architecture at the time. A single continuous balcony with wrought-iron railing of a floral motif is supported by 5 curving corbels. A band of seven windows each separated by intricate pilasters lets light shine into the second floor. Although Chiamberlani designed the monumental sgraffiti, it was Adolphe Crespin who realized it in a warm, lively and sensuous tone. The sgraffito on the first floor represents the three stages of life, while the one above, set in a series of seven medallions, and ornamented with repetitive floral patterns, portrays the labors of Hercules.
Image by User:Ben2 under Creative Commons License.
9
Hôtel Tassel

9) Hôtel Tassel

This august pile of masterly shaped stone was the trendsetter and herald of the movement which came to be known as Art Nouveau. Although Horta had already designed a few buildings before this one, the Hôtel Tassel was a drastic departure from the more traditional styles of the day. Unfortunately, all you will get to see is the façade, apart from postcards of the interior, that is. Originally built for professor Emile Tassel between 1892-1893, it is now owned by a law firm. Nevertheless it is still a delight to behold. It simultaneously manages to cohere with its neighbors and distinguish itself by virtue of its modest, and almost understated façade. The façade’s vertical center commands the most attention with its powerful and elegant appearance. The mezzanine’s bay window is adorned by five columns that are “clawed” at the base and capital. You can even see a hint of lustrous, colored glass on a clear day. Just above, the first floor’s windows sport a set of arabesques worked into the railing. Like the slender trunks of saplings, four metal columns support the lintel. On top of that, you see the balcony on a slab of stone with dentallated edges. It has a less ornate railing, but notice how the façade opens up, the stone sweeping up and stopping, letting the balcony breathe. On each side of the balcony, there are sidelights, mere slits of windows that recall the medieval period. Horta was an expert interior designer and he devised all the treasures inside, from doors and door handles, to the octagonal vestibule and the rooms and everything in between, including the sinuous and sensuous staircase.
Image by Arco Ardon under Creative Commons License.
10
Hôtel Solvay

10) Hôtel Solvay

Having secured unlimited funding from his client the wealthy industrialist family Solvay, Horta achieved this masterpiece. With most of the work completed in 1898, Horta continued to work on the furnishing for some years. Although the building is privately owned, it is possible for tours to be organized on occasion. At the time of its construction the façade echoed the restrained elegance common to the side streets and not in purposeful contrast to the opulence within. Now, the façade makes use of softly contrasting stones, white and blue, with the blue dominating the ground floor, where it slightly curves out from the sidewalk. There is something earthen and treelike even in the structures play with organic shapes. See how the exquisite door matches smoothly to the mullions of the windows and the swirling artful metalwork that comprises the railings. The lower central balcony has two doors on either of its sides, set in arched stone doorways. Notice how the center occupies a delicately curved space, which Horta masterly applies, ever so minutely, to all the elements of the façade, except for the metal columns over the bay windows. And they terminate with blossoming flourishes on both ends. If you get the chance to go inside, you will step into another world, one of aesthetic luxury. There is a wealth of precious materials, such as marble, onyx and inlaid wood, many of which was obtained from tropical regions. And finally, Horta commissioned pointillist painter Théo van Rysselberghe to decorate a swathe of staircase landing.
Image by Zinneke under Creative Commons License.
11
Blerot and Beyond

11) Blerot and Beyond

The last sight is more than just a single building, it’s really another beginning to a number of notable houses incorporating and modifying Art Nouveau elements. Yes, you are standing in front of a pair of houses by Ernest Blerot, numbers 9 and 11. The windows and doors have been finely wrought and set in sinuous stone frames. Notice especially the graceful corbel with its leafy ornaments in bas relief supporting the oriel window on the house to the left, number 11. And the door to number 9 with its arch, a seductive mix of the horseshoe and tudor styles. Right next door, there is a building by Frans Tilley. Its balcony is encased in a sleek, broad glass enclosure. Now remember, Brussels has about 2,500 buildings that express the architectural ideals of the Art Nouveau movement, of course, some to greater effect than others. So if you have time and if you’re not too tired, take a little stroll in the area as there are dozens of Art Nouveau creations in this pleasant neighborhood. Just at the corner with Rue de la Vallée is another fine brick example by Blerot, it’s number 40. There are also some houses by the De Lune brothers, one at Rue de la Valée, 32, and one at rue du Lac 6, which has remarkable stained glass. And it seems that Blerot was quite busy in this area, for he has more houses on Rue Belle Vue, 42-46 and down near the ponds on the avenue General de Gaulle, 38-39. Both of these are a testament to his skill in twisting metal to his aesthetic will. If you’re tired, hungry or thirsty, just head to place Flagey, next to the ponds, where there are a variety of watering holes. And if you still can’t get enough of architecture or walking through Brussels, take a lap around the ponds. It’s worth it.
Image by Steve Cadman under Creative Commons License.

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