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BRAFA Art Fair 2023 thrusts Art Nouveau into the Limelight

The first major European art fair to attend in 2023, the Brussels Art Fair, will open its doors this weekend. This 68th edition of the BRAFA will be highlighting the Art Nouveau movement as Brussels designated 2023 to be the Year of Art Nouveau.

When the regional government of Brussels revealed its intention to become the World Capital of Art Nouveau, they presented a strategy to promote the arts and architecture of the Art Nouveau movement in Brussels, starting in 2023 with a Year of Art Nouveau. Countless cultural organisations will align their activities, museums in particular. You can read more about the program for Brussels’ Year of Art Nouveau 2023 in my previous blog.

During the BRAFA, the King Baudouin Foundation and some galleries specialised in Art Nouveau will be presenting exceptional pieces. The design of the BRAFA 2023 carpet will be based on original drawings by Victor Horta, and art lovers will be able to attend two “BRAFA Art Talks” devoted to Art Nouveau. One will be led by Professor Werner Adriaenssens, curator of the Twentieth-Century Collections at the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, and the other by Benjamin Zurstrassen, curator at the Horta Museum.

The BRAFA Art Talks will take place at 4:00 pm at the stand of the King Baudouin Foundation. Most important for us are these two talks: Tuesday 31 January 2023 – Brussels 1893, the birth of Art Nouveau, by Benjamin Zurstrassen. And Thursday 2 February 2023 – The King Baudouin Foundation’s Art Nouveau Collection, by Prof. Dr. Werner Adriaenssens. Entry is free, once you’re inside the fair.

Art Nouveau rug for BRAFA 2023 based on Victor Horta's designs

Revealing of the BRAFA 2023 carpet, based on Victor Horta’s drawings

How Brussels became the World Capital of Art Nouveau

During a BRAFA preview at the residence of the Ambassador of Belgium in The Hague, Prof. Dr. Werner Adriaenssens and Dr. Lennart Booij discussed how Brussels became the Capital of Art Nouveau at the end of the 19th century. It was a very interesting talk and I will try to recap for you what they said.

Booij started with a list of seven ‘sparks’ that triggered the necessary climate in Europe; each of these ‘sparks’ contributed to the fertile environment Brussels needed to reach its zenith and become World Capital of Art Nouveau.

  1. Industrialisation and Schools of Design (Morris & Ruskin)
  2. Back to nature in response to city life (Baudelaire)
  3. World Exhibitions and national rivalry (Crystal Palace 1851)
  4. The opening up of Japan after 200 years of seclusion – 1853
  5. Mechanization of the Printing Press – Magazines spreading information rapidly
  6. Upcoming Bourgeoisie – pursued a more modern lifestyle than old nobility
  7. Individuality, Ego and Psyche (Freud) – need to distinguish oneself
Prof. Dr. Werner Adriaenssens and Dr. Lennart Booij

Prof. Dr. Werner Adriaenssens and Dr. Lennart Booij

Though these developments are true for most European cities, only Brussel reached that vibrant state where arts and crafts thrived and where Art Nouveau flourished. So what else propelled Brussels? Adriaenssens continued the discussion by explaining the additional circumstances that accelerated developments in Brussels.

One of the main reasons he mentioned was the Belgian Constitution of 1831. It was created in the aftermath of the secession of Belgium from the Netherlands. The new constitution was extremely liberal as it guaranteed freedom of expression, education, religion and the press. It drew industrialists with money to Belgium, and influential patrons moved to Brussels. A Nouveau Riche started to build modern castles to distinguish themselves from old nobility and giving young architects carte blanche. They wanted to show off their riches!

And that liberal atmosphere in Brussel not only worked for the industries. It also worked for the arts. Think for instance of Les XX and the later La Libre Esthetique. Founded in Brussels because artists were not happy with the conservative policies of the official academic Salon.

Basically, in Brussels, everything fell into place. Everyone was at the right moment in the right place… and the World Capital of Art Nouveau was conceived.

Art Nouveau highlights at the BRAFA

Every year I look forward to visiting the BRAFA. I feel like a kid in a candy store. The breathtaking quality of the art presented, as well as the welcoming atmosphere, are exhilarating. And to make things even better, this year the theme of the BRAFA is Art Nouveau! I have already marked all the galleries that I must see on my map of the fair. And at the same time I am excited to find out what treasures I will discover in unexpected places. Here is my list of the Must See galleries:

Epoque Fine Jewels

On the occasion of its 65th anniversary Epoque Fine Jewels will display a remarkable collection of Art Nouveau jewelry. One of their highlights is an Art Nouveau Peacock tiara by Philippe Wolfers (Brussels, 1858-1929), which was recently discovered as the central piece of the missing ‘Diadème Paon’ from Wolfers’ Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques. According to that catalogue, the piece was designed and created in 1902-1903. Another important piece Epoque Fine Jewels will bring to the BRAFA is a 1909 pendant by Lluís Masriera i Rosés (Barcelona, 1872-1958).


Set from the ‘Magasin Wolfers’, by Victor Horta, circa 1910


Mantelpiece clock ‘Le Jour et La Nuit’, by Pieter Braecke, circa 1900

Thomas Deprez Fine Arts

Fairly new at the BRAFA is Thomas Deprez Fine Arts. Deprez specialises in Fin-de-Siècle Belgian art (1880-1914). I have visited Deprez’ gallerie in Brussels in October 2022 and I was seriously impressed by the quality of his collection of rare and historically important works. I imagine more than one museum is eyeing his collection!

Lennart Booij Fine Art en Rare Items

Another rather new participant is Lennart Booij Fine Art en Rare Items from Amsterdam. Booij has a strong focus on the oeuvre of René Lalique (1860-1945) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). But the most spectacular object he is bringing to the fair – in my humble opinion – is a ceramic vase by Émile Gallé. I have seen the vase up close, and it really is very special. It was fired with a Japanese glaze and highlighted with a decoration of enamel and gold. Presumably, the vase was exhibited at the Paris World Exhibition of 1889.

Galerie Montanari

Galerie Montanari is not new at the BRAFA. And I love visiting their galerie. They specialise in antique frames and their collection always includes a few beautiful Art Nouveau frames. So if you own an Art Nouveau painting and you are searching for a period correct frame, look no further. Galerie Montanari has already found it!

Gallery Florian Kolhammer

Gallery Florian Kolhammer specialises in European art and antiques from the Jugendstil, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods to Mid-Century Design. They present their objects together with exquisite pieces of furniture from around 1900. Kolhammer is one of the leading experts on glass from the Loetz glassworks and objects from the Hagenauer Werkstätte from Vienna. I don’t remember if I have seen this gallery before, and I look forward to finding out what they bring to the fair. 

Galerie Mathivet

Galerie Mathivet from Paris always brings different pieces. They are specialised in 20th century decorative arts and they manage to surprise me every year. This year they are bringing a beautiul Art Nouveau sofa by Eugène Vallin (1856-1922). I don’t think I have ever seen a piece of furniture by Vallin outside the Musée d’Orsay or the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy. Will they let me sit on the sofa for a picture???

Univers du Bronze

To end my line-up, I would like to draw your attention to Univers du Bronze. Univers du Bronze presents works by major sculptors from the 19th and 20th centuries. My favorite in their collection this year is this set of lamps by Raoul Larche (1860-1912). Larche was inspired by the dancer Loie Fuller and one of his best-known statues depicts Fuller dancing with part of her drapery billowing above and behind her head like a flame. These lamps are cast at Siot Decauville Fondeur Paris around 1900-1910.


Two Lamps La Danse, Raoul Larche, circa 1910

And these treasures are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There will be so much more to discover! I can’t wait to see what else BRAFA 2023 has got in store for us. Will you be there too?

Venue: Brussels Expo I Heysel, Halls 3 & 4 (entrance)
Place de Belgique 1, 1020 Brussels, Belgium

Continue Reading:
Art Nouveau Brussels 2023 (Programme)
Art Nouveau in optima forma – Herenhuis Magazine PDF
Belgische Art Nouveau Belge – Collection Jonathan Mangelinckx
Brafa 2023: Art Nouveau Celebrated in its Capital
Brussels Art Nouveau Art Deco Festival 2023
Brussels Art Nouveau Pass 2023
Brussels unveils strategy to become Art Nouveau capital
Horta-Wolfers – Heropening van de juwelierszaak Wolfers Frères
Wat zou Victor Horta kopen met 500.000 euro? – De Tijd