There was no way we were going to Brussels and not take an Art Nouveau tour! Right there, where it all started, where the Art Nouveau architectural style was invented when the Belgian architect Victor Horta designed Hotel Tassel in 1894!
Art Nouveau is a total art style that embraces architecture, painting, graphic arts, interior design and jewelry, ceramic and metalwork. It was extremely popular during 1890 – 1910 and was inspired by natural forms and structures, especially the organic and fluid lines of flowers and plants. It’s the style that inspired Antoni Gaudi, but he went well beyond it and created his own aesthetic, unique and all so fascinating to this day.
By 1910 Art Nouveau was already out of style, it was first replaced by Art Deco and later by Modernism. But those 20 years were enough to give us some delightful architectural masterpieces!
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Art Nouveau DIY tour in Brussels
We walked around in Brussels in search of the finest Art Nouveau buildings. And I must say we were not disappointed! We didn’t get to see all of them, so I included in the article Instagram posts for the ones we missed.
Brussels is where the architectural style was created because here is the first official Art Nouveau building: Hotel Tassel, designed in 1894 by Victor Horta, one of the greatest Belgian architects, when he was only 32! Horta used many innovative techniques both in space redefinition and decorations. French architect Hector Guimard, visiting Horta’s building, was inspired to create the iconic Art Nouveau stations for the Paris metro.
Art Nouveau in Ixelles
Let’s return to Brussels, more precisely in the splendid Ixelles neighborhood. It’s not at all touristy, it’s actually a very quiet neighborhood with gorgeous townhouses, and no major attraction to check off the bucket list. But for us, the avid architecture-lovers, it was a jewel!
Here in Ixelles is Hotel Tassel, where everything started! If you do a google search on art nouveau architecture, among the first images you will see the incredibly stylish interior stairway of the hotel Tassel!
But besides Hotel Tassel there are many other Art Nouveau masterpieces in Ixelles. Let’s go together for a walk and see what we discover. You can reach Ixelles on foot, it’s only 2.5 km away from the Grand Place, or you can take tram 93 next to the Royal Palace for 6 stops to Defacqz Station. Below is the Ixelles walking tour I’m suggesting.
Let’s start with the iconic Hotel Tassel (google maps link), a townhouse designed by Victor Horta, the father of Art Nouveau, for the Belgian scientist Emile Tassel in 1894. It’s considered to be the first true Art Nouveau building because of its highly innovative floor plan and its very original use of materials and decoration. It’s located at Rue Paul Emile Janson no 6.
The first house built by Victor Horta was actually Maison Autrique, which fits the Art Nouveau style with its decorative scheme, but its interiors and floor plans are mostly traditional. But for Hotel Tassel Horta broke all traditional barriers and created something entirely new, two separate buildings in brick and natural stone, one in the front and the other on the side of the garden, connected through a glass-covered steel structure. He also personally designed every door handle, stained glass window, mosaic flooring and piece of furniture.
All this is reminding me of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, which also had a small inner courtyard with a glass ceiling, and the organic door handles designed by Gaudi himself.
The interiors of Hotel Tassel are glorious, but I haven’t yet been able to understand how to visit it. I just read that it is possible to see the interiors during the BANAD festival (Brussels Art Nouveau and Art Deco), which takes place every year in March. More details on their website.
Other Art Nouveau buildings in Ixelles
We continue our walk on Rue Defacqz and at no 48 we see the Albert Ciamberlani House (google maps link), which was built in 1897 by the Belgian architect Paul Hankar for the artist Albert Ciamberlani. The artist’s studio on the 1st floor is flooded with natural light thanks to the two huge round windows. Most of the façade is covered in sgraffito, a decorative technique that was rediscovered by Art Nouveau artists.
Walking further on the same street, at number 71 we find Paul Hankar’s house (google maps link), built in 1893. Metalwork decorations are dominating the façade, also embellished with paintings and sculptures.
On Rue Faider nr 83 (google maps link) we discover another gorgeous townhouse, built in 1900 by the architect Albert Roosenboom.
Let’s walk a little bit further and stop on Rue Africaine nr 92 (google maps link) to rub our eyes, because look at this amazing house, with a splendid round window on the 2nd floor and such an elegant entrance! We also notice the metal mud scraper next to the door, used at the beginning of the last century to clean the mud off shoes. These scrapers are present in almost all the Ixelles townhouses, and besides their practical role, they have a decorative one: an extra detail on the façade to put the architect’s creativity to the test. The house was designed by architect Benjamin de Lestré-De and built in 1905.
The Horta Museum (google maps link) is on Rue Américaine No 25. It’s set up in the house that Victor Horta built in 1898 and lived in, Maison & Atelier Horta. In addition to superb interiors, the museum exhibits pieces of furniture, utensils and various objects designed by Horta. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 14:00 and 17:30 and the tickets cost €10. More details here.
Hotel Hannon (google maps link) is on Avenue de la Jonction No. 1. Built in 1902, it is the only Art Nouveau building of architect Jules Brunfaut. It’s a magnificent corner building with a curved façade richly decorated with convex and concave lines.
We head back to Avenue Louise and reach Hotel Solvay (google maps link). It’s another splendid house built by Victor Horta, for Armand Solvay, the son of Ernest Solvay, a very rich Belgian chemist. Because money was not a problem, Horta used the most precious materials for this building, such as marble, onyx, bronze, tropical wood, and he also designed every single detail: furniture, carpets, lamps and even the doorbell. Unfortunately, the magnificent Hotel Solvay cannot be visited, since it’s private property.
We walk further and reach a beautiful area on the shores of Lake Etang d’Ixelles, we marvel at the amazingly beautiful houses embraced by greenery, and we start to think this must be Brussels’ version of Beverly Hills! On Rue du Lac street number 6 (google maps link), we stop a bit to admire the marvelous façade of a house that’s starting to degrade. It was built in 1904 by architect Ernest Delune.
We go around the corner and enter Rue de la Vallée street (google maps link), where almost all the houses on the left are signed by the same Ernest Delune. Oh, we totally want to live here for the rest of our lives, how can everything be so beautiful?!
We continue our walk on the parallel street, Avenue du Général de Gaulle, and at number 38 (google maps link) our hearts skip a beat when we see the fence and the railing so fluid and carefully designed! The construction was completed in 1904 and is signed by the architect Ernest Blérot.
Ernest Blérot also signed the wonderful house on Rue Vilain XIIII no 9 (google maps link). And I really mean signed, as the architects used to leave their names on the buildings they designed!
La Maison Cauchie
We melancholically leave the Ixelles neighborhood and further explore Brussels. The first on the list is Maison Cauchie (google maps link), which is right next to Parc du Cinquantenaire. It was built in 1905 by the Art Nouveau painter and architect Paul Cauchie, and stands out through its beautiful façade, decorated with allegorical sgraffito. Cauchie had specialized in creating sgraffito for architecture, a decorative technique for walls.
He met his future wife at the Academy of Fine Arts, she was also an artist who taught drawing and painting privately. They designed the façade of their future home together, as an advertisement for their ability and talent: sgraffito for him and art teaching for her. Maison Cauchie can be visited on the first weekend of each month for €7. More details here.
Maison Saint Cyr
We arrive in Ambiorix Square no 11 and are greeted by a most wonderful townhouse, Maison Saint Cyr (google maps link)! It quickly becomes my favorite house in the whole world, I have never seen anything more beautiful, I’m so in love and I have zero chances to recover!!
This gorgeousness of a building was designed by Art Nouveau architect Gustave Strauven, who worked in Victor Horta’s office for a few years, and helped him with various projects, like Hôtel van Eetvelde.
Maison Saint-Cyr is certainly Strauven’s most important work and was built in 1903 for the painter George de Saint-Cyr. It’s only 4 meters wide and is decorated with gorgeous geometric motifs and ornamental wrought iron railings that mimic vegetation. When we were there it was in full restoration, and I understood that it is now on sale and unfortunately it cannot be visited.
Hotel Van Eetvelde
Not far away, on Avenue Palmerston, we discover Hotel Van Eetvelde (google maps link), another magnificent piece signed by Victor Horta. It was built in 1895, with a very bold façade having a visible metal structure. Since 1950 the building holds the headquarters of the Industrial Gas Federation, so we can only admire it from the outside.
Maison Autrique (google maps link) was built by Victor Horta in 1893 for his friend Eugène Autrique, and is considered to be the first link in the creation of the Art Nouveau architectural style. As I said before, it has all the typical Art Nouveau decorative characteristics: iron pillars and columns on the façade, sgraffito, stained-glass, mosaics, lots of natural light and decorative elements of floral inspiration.
Maison Autrique is on Chaussée de Haecht no. 266 in the Schaerbeek district, and is opened to the public, you can visit it from Wednesday to Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00 for €7. More details on the Maison Autrique website.
Musical Instruments Museum
The Musical Instruments Museum, or MIM (google maps link) is an amazing building, and it rather looks like it was initially sketched out on a music sheet rather than blueprint! It’s located on Hofberg Street no 2, very close to the Royal Palace of Brussels. The building, which now houses MIM, was built in 1899 as the Old England department store and was designed by Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy, who was at the time strongly influenced by Victor Horta’s architecture.
Steel frames and large-scale glass panels were previously used only in industrial construction but were integrated into the Art Nouveau style. The huge windows not only flooded the rooms with natural light but also encouraged window shopping, so their use became a preferred technique for retail shops.
Art Nouveau DIY tour in Brussels
This is where our Art Nouveau tour through the Belgian capital ends. I trust you enjoyed walking along with me, and I hopefully built you a little bit of an appetite for architecture. I am completely fascinated with Art Nouveau and the buildings in Brussels have swept me off my feet! Barcelona is still my favorite city, but Brussels has also made it surreptitiously to the top. Especially the Ixelles neighborhood and its fairytale buildings!
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