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As a genuine Art Nouveau lover, the Horta Museum had been high on my wish list for quite some time. And last week (8 June 2013) I finally got to visit the former house and atelier of Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Pierre Horta (6 January 1861 – 8 September 1947). Horta was one of the founders of the Art Nouveau movement and his Hôtel Tassel in Brussels, built in 1892–93, is often considered the very first Art Nouveau house. (NB. Hôtel Tassel was nót his own house and it is not where the Horta museum is located)

Musée Horta - Façade ©Paul Louis

Photo courtesy of the Horta Museum, © Paul Louis

The next picture I want to show you is of the iconic skylight above the stairwell in the Horta house. I have seen pictures of the skylight from this angle in many books, but I never fully understood what I was looking at. Now that I have visited the museum in person, I finally understand: The ‘opening’ on the left side is actually a mirror reflecting another mirror on the opposite site, creating a seemingly endless space. Horta was keen on original use of steel frames and skylights to bring light into his structures.

Sky-light Staircase Horta Museum Brussels

The house was designed in a – for those days – very innovative way. Horta created a variety of perspectives and sought to allow light to circulate. He simplified supporting structures through the use of metal arches, tie-beams and girders, all of which were unconcealed. The structures and decor were closely linked; often there was no distinction at all between the structure and the ornament.

Master Bedroom Horta Museum Brussels

I just loved the colour of the walls contrasting the colour of the wood in the bedroom of Horta’s daughter Simone. It gave me a warm, Mediterranean feel. Wandering the rooms of this museum made me want to travel back in time and live in a house like this.

The academic system which dominated art education from the 17th to the 19th century, underpinned the widespread belief that media such as painting and sculpture were superior to crafts such as furniture design and silver-smithing. The consequence, many believed, was the neglect of good craftsmanship. Art Nouveau artists wanted to overturn that belief, creating a “total work of art,” or “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which resulted in buildings and interiors where every element partook in the same visual vocabulary. Horta’s house is a perfect example of a “total work of art”. Since it was his own house, he could put all his creative energy in the design and he was not limited by the budget or tast of his customer. Horta applied new techniques and materials and paid attention to every little detail.

Recognition for Victor Horta’s Architecture

In 1932 King Albert I of Belgium conferred on Horta the title of Baron for his services to architecture. Four of the buildings Horta designed have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel Van Eetvelde and the Horta House & Studio. And also Horta’s current ‘neighbours’ are proud of what he achieved, as this graffiti is clearly a tribute to a highly respected artist. However, over the years, some beautiful buildings (such as the Hôtel Aubeque and his Maison du Peuple) he designed were destroyed as well. This mistake will haunt the Belgians forever, I’m afraid.

Subway Graffiti Horta Brussels

UPDATE: Because 2023 marks the 130th anniversary of Hôtel Tassel, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region designated 2023 as the Year of Art Nouveau. They have launched a year’s program full of initiatives in the region, from architecture walks to exhibitions and workshops. And from interior visits to lectures. All program can be viewed here: https://artnouveau.brussels

Continue Reading:
Apollo Magazine: At home with Victor Horta, the master of art nouveau
Horta’s Profile
Horta Museum Brussels
Podcast series about Victor Horta (Vlaams/Dutch)
Victor Horta – Woonhuis Amerikaansestraat 25 Brussels
Victor Hortas iron architecture – a structural analysis 2010
Unesco World Heritage List
Wikipage Horta Museum English
Wikipage Horta Museum Dutch