In December, I wrote about my visit to the Zurenborg district of Berchem, one of the suburbs of Antwerp. Zurenborg is a small district where architects went wild a little over a century ago. As the development of Zurenborg coincided with the peak of Art Nouveau popularity, that movement had the greatest impact on the stylistic language of the area.
An exquisite Art Nouveau example along the main street Cogels-Osylei is ‘De Zonnebloem’ (The Sunflower) at number 50. The house was commissioned by G. Coppens, and built by architect Jules Hofman in 1900. The Sunflower characteristically incorporates the “organic” nature so prevalent in Art Nouveau.
The house in its current shape is a little different from its original design. As we can see in this photo from around 1902, the house was built in stone, decorated with limestone and stucco ornaments. Since then, it was completely painted white. Also, already before World War I, the loggia of the ‘bel-étage’ was closed with a large horseshoe shaped window. Several of the sunflower ornaments have been painted gold, the dome-shaped canopy above the entrance has disappeared, and the panels between the windows of the first and second floor are now showing the text “Huize Zonnebloem” (Sunflower House) while they originally contained entrelac-motifs that served as Horror Vacui decorations.*
Fortunately, most of the details remain as beautiful as they were originally designed. This house is an example of luscious Art Nouveau the way Art Nouveau was meant to be, the way most of us know it. It includes all the seductive characteristic: balconies, horseshoe arched windows, whiplash motifs, wrought iron railings, floral elements (golden sunflowers, leaves), a wooden loggia and lots of other romantic details.
Jules J.H. Hofman was born 16 December 1859 in Oosterhout, The Netherlands. He was the son of a doctor and oldest of eight children. Initially he wanted to become a painter, but as his father insisted he chose to study architecture. Why and when he moved to Antwerp is unknown, but 27 April 1880 Hofman registered at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts for a summer course. From October 1880 he commenced his academic education there. After 4 years he graduated Cum Laude, and received the ‘Prix d’Excellence’. He first worked for other architects, mainly doing renovations but when he got a job at ‘Naamloze Maatschappij voor het bouwen van Burgerhuizen’ his career finally took off. This construction company was responsible for the allotment of the Zurenborg area, and allowed young architects to develop themselves. They played an important role in the spreading of Art Nouveau in Antwerp.
Some larger assignments gave Jules Hofman’s reputation the boost that put his career in a higher gear: The ‘Elixir d’Anvers’ factories of François Xavier de Beukelaer and the build of 5 pavilions at the World Exhibition of 1894 in Antwerp. In 1909 he became the chief architect of a construction company called “Vooruitzicht”. The number of commissions increased significantly, and not only for civilian houses, he also designed many larger projects. In 1913 Hofman was asked to build the Synagogue Machsiké Hadass, and just before WWI he also designed a cigar factory for Benedictus & Pinkhof.
During WWI the number of commissions faded away, and after the war had ended, Hofman was not re-employed by the construction company “Vooruitzicht”. Hofman died 13 May 1919 in Antwerp. Unfortunately his archives were lost.
The Cogels-Osylei is located in Berchem in the Zurenborg-area, also called the Golden Triangle of Art Nouveau. The three main streets alone, Cogels-Osylei, Transvaal Street and Waterloo Street, host 170 monumental houses that are protected by the Flemish government since 1984.
* As I am writing this blog in order to learn something about Art Nouveau, I discover new things all the time, and I love it! Today, I found out the meaning of the terms “Entrelac Motifs” and “Horror Vacui”. I find it interesting to learn what these terms mean, because I am sure I will come along these features again and again during my Journey into getting to know Art Nouveau. So here is what I learned:
Entrelac Motifs are diamond-shaped patterns, resembling woven strips. The best examples I could find within my own pictures are these ones, also taken in the Zurenborg area:
Horror Vacui (Latin) literally means ‘fear of empty space’. In visual art it means the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail.
Author Alex Elaut has published a book about the architect of this house, Jules Hofman. You can order the book online, by clicking on the picture of the book.