Definitely the most interesting Find of the Day so far is our yesterday’s find! We drove to Brussels to see an exhibition of the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) at the The Museums of the Far East and accidentally discovered our Find of the Day in the adjacent Chinese pavilion.
“A Chinese pavilion in Brussels?” I hear you think. Yes, a Chinese pavilion in Brussels! This is how come: in 1900, King Leopold II conceived the idea of building an open-air museum consisting of various exotic pavilions. He had seen something similar that year at the World Exhibition in Paris: more particularly, the ‘Tour du Monde’ panorama. The following year, he commissioned the Paris architect Alexandre Marcel (1860-1928) to build a ‘Japanese tower’. However, the plan for an open-air museum was quickly abandoned and in 1909 the monarch presented the building to the Belgian State, upon which it became an annex of the Trade Museum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The King also entrusted the construction of a ‘Chinese pavilion’ to Alexandre Marcel. The King’s intention was to use it as a luxury restaurant for businessmen with or looking for economic links with China. Work was begun in 1903, halted in 1905 and resumed in 1909. The pavilion, which owes its ‘Chinese’ look to the exterior panels imported from Shanghai, was opened in 1913, not as a restaurant, but as a further annex of the Trade Museum, just as the Japanese tower.
A small, sober building behind the Chinese Pavilion is now the Museum of Japanese Art. It was built in 1903 by Alexandre Marcel as a garage for the coaches and automobiles that would transport customers to the restaurant in the pavilion. Because nothing ever came of the restaurant, this building remained without a function. In 1990, the Royal Museums of Art and History and the Public Buildings Department decided to renovate it and to lay it out as a museum to exhibit the institution’s rich collection of Japanese art. And this is where we went to see the Hokusai exhibition.
After we had visited the Hokusai exhibition (on which I will be commenting at a later stage), we wandered around the Chinese pavilion not intending to actually go inside. Our curiosity however lured us to the museum-shop inside the Chinese Pavilion, and on our way there we passed a window across from the toilets. Now, this pavilion looks really very Chinese in every way, so you can imagine our surprise when we discovered Art Nouveau tiles through that window! Just look at the tiles bordering the ceiling! What an amazing find!
Once inside, we decided to see the rest of the museum and boy, were we happy that we did! Upstairs we discovered a complete Art Nouveau bathroom, more beautiful than we have ever seen! All Art Nouveau lovers, when visiting Brussels, please make sure to feast your eyes on this exquisite gem we found inside the Chinese Pavilion!