‘Victor Horta is a world renowned architect who lived south of Brussels city centre in the affluent and pretty neighbourhood of Ixelles’
Known as the Father of the Art Nouveau movement, Horta inspired a young Antoni Gaudi with his impressive vision and cutting edge designs. Horta died in 1947, but his life and works are still widely celebrated around the city. These are the main points of interest in Brussels:
This building is located at 224 Avenue Louise and was commissioned by the son of Belgian industrialist, Armand Solvay. Victor Horta designed it for the family to live in and made the most of a large budget. He was involved in every aspect of the design, including the door bell. As it was designed as a private residence, it’s not open to the public, except by prior appointment. However, the exterior facade that’s listed by UNESCO and can be viewed from the street. Please do be respectful and quiet, though – no one wants tourists chatting outside their bedroom windows at 6am.
Maison & Atelier Horta/Victor Horta Museum
These are located on the Rue Americaine 25 in the Brussels subdivision of Saint-Gilles. Victor Horta originally designed the two attached properties as a residence for himself. These days, it’s the official site of the Horta Museum. Horta’s life and work are displayed here, as well as permanent displays of furniture and other works. This includes intricate light fixtures, wonderful stained glass, and a really rather impressive knob.
Door knob, you filthy animal. Honestly, get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway, the houses have a fabulously curved staircase in pink and gold tones. This is best viewed by climbing to the top and sticking your head out over the railing in order to appreciate the full impact of the design. Don’t pop your head over too far, though, yeah? The properties also house lots of temporary exhibitions to showcase other works by Victor Horta, as well as other artists from around the world.
Hotel Van Eetvelde
Located at 4 Avenue Palmerston, this houses the Synergrid company and is not open to the public. The facade does have a pretty plaque on it to let you know who designed it, but you’ll have to admire the building from outside. The house was designed for Edmond Van Eetvelde, who was Administrator of the free state of Congo. Horta employed the use of skylights and domes here to produce as much natural light as possible. As he did with the Horta Museum, the architect also installed a large decorative staircase leading to the upper floors.
Van Eetvelde, Tassel, Solvay and the Victor Horta Museum make up 4 town houses that are on the register of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
This is located at 6 Rue Paul-Emile Jansonstraat in Ixelles. It is largely considered to be the first real example of Art Nouveau style anywhere in the world. Commissioned for Professor Emile Tassel (hence the name…) and made up of three parts, joined together with glass and steel. As with many of his other structures, Victor Horta was involved in every minute aspect of this property. This included decorating the interior and designing the doorhandles.
Unfortunately, the Tassel House is a privately owned office and is not open to the public. You can, however, freely loiter around on the street outside and look at it. Alternatively, why not see if you can work out what kind of business is run from the inside and make an appointment? It’s worth a try. Unless, of course, it’s like an undertakers or something. That might be a *touch* difficult to pull off.
The Centre for Fine Arts
Know locally as the ‘Bozar’, this concert venue and cultural centre had funding denied for its construction in aftermath of World War 1. After Victor Horta made some adjustments to the design (one being that it could not be too tall as to interfere with the King’s views across the city) construction permits were granted. Building took more than ten years to complete with a portion of the usable space being built underground (gotta keep the King happy, after all). The building is now used for concerts and exhibitions. The Great Sculpture Hall within its walls is named after the man who helped to bring the idea to life.
Brussels Central Railway Station
OK, so this isn’t quite as fancy as the houses, but stick with me. Victor Horta was commissioned to design the new station back in 1910. However, economic problems and two World Wars got in the way and the final design wasn’t completed until after his death. Whilte Horta died in 1947, the station didn’t open until 1952. It was finished to modified plans by Horta’s colleague, Maxime Brunfaut. Brunfaut is also a very famous architect in his own right. He was responsible for the incredible Lemaire Sanatorium in Overijse, which now lies derelict.
Greenhouses of Laeken
A young Victor Horta helped to produce the design for this complex of domed tropical and sub tropical greenhouses while working as an assistant to Professor Alphonse Balat, Now making up part of the Royal Park to the north of Brussels, they host a huge collection of plants and trees. The collection of orange groves owned by King Leopold is located here. The greenhouses are only open to the public for a two-week period each year (April – May). The rest of their time they are enjoyed solely by Heads of State and other important people.
Melania Trump visited in 2017. There’s no word on whether her husband was there, but chances are he was on the closest golf course. I jest, of course, I know he’s not really playing golf; he’s working. It’s just that he manages to do them simultaneously, which takes a lot of skill. Anyway, unless you can visit in April and May, you might want to try becoming Donald Trump’s 4th wife. Or not.
Musee des Beaux-Arts Tournai
This museum was built to house the expansive Van Cutsem art collection. Victor Horta was commissioned to design a space fitting for world-class artists and the gallery is the permanent residence of pieces by Monet and Van Gogh. Horta’s original designs were the same Art Nouveau designs as his town houses, but construction was halted due to WW1. When rescheduled (the house, not the war…) the design became more classical, reflecting the architect’s changing influences. Tournai is a small municipality of Belgium and sits 50 miles south west of Brussels. The museum and gallery are open to the public.
Victor Horta’s final resting place is in a beautiful cemetery in the Ixelles neighbourhood. His grave is a fairly unimpressive affair, given his works. However, before his death he designed the stones for some other famous Belgians who are buried beside him. He produced the tomb of Ernest Solvay (for whom he designed Hotel Solvay), as well as that of Belgian sculptor, Edouard Louis Geerts. Victor Horta also designed the tomb of Johannes Brahms in Vienna. The cemetery at Ixelles is often described as the Belgian equivalent of Pere La Chaise.
Have you seen any designs by Victor Horta on your travels in Belgium?