With his villa for the university professor Émile Tassel, the young architect Victor Horta set new standards: this house is one of the first residential buildings in Europe in the Art Nouveau style. Horta was soon in demand for his daring ideas, and in his chosen home, Brussels, Horta left behind many luxurious private houses.
Educated in Ghent, Paris, and Brussels, Victor Horta led an independent life from his mid-20s. His ideas were revolutionary. Replacing wood with iron his first move, although it was not so much the material that was new as the place where it was used. Horta used it, for example, for the entrance hall of the house that he built for Tassel: slender iron components continue in the form of tendril-like ornamentation on floor, walls, and ceiling—and, not least, the iron columns themselves take up the vegetal motifs. Everything seems to be in movement, linked together by whirls and curves. The arrangement of rooms and passages too is determined by flowing transitions.
Building for the Workers
While Horta transposed the vocabulary of Art Nouveau with its curved lines and vegetal ornament in the Tassel house, his next major commission proved to be quite different. The newly founded Belgian Socialist Party commissioned the still quite unknown architect to design its assembly building. Horta envisaged a palace, “which would not be a palace at all, but a ‘house,’ in which light and air represent the luxury that was for so long denied to the miserable living quarters of the workers.” The curved facade of this early major work by Horta formed a framework of slender iron elements. Brickwork played only a subsidiary role in the Maison du Peuple—the foreground was dominated by large areas of glass. The building attracted enormous attention, a situation that was to be repeated when the house was demolished in 1965 in the face of all protests.
Dynamic and Flooded with Light
Horta’s later designs were no longer designed for such specific purposes, and even the target group changed. Over the years that followed, Horta created two large department stores and above all urban villas for wealthy entrepreneurs. It was precisely the latter who posed a particular problem for the architect: how could the narrow but tall town houses typical of Brussels, constricted within long rows, be made visually larger? Horta had the good fortune to have a largely free hand in realizing his ideas; thanks to glass roofs, his buildings give the impression of being flooded with light, and mirrors placed opposite each other suggest whole series of rooms.
In the urban villa executed by Horta at the turn of the century for the wealthy manufacturer Solvay, he indulged to its height his weakness for moving forms in the curved facade, whose bow fronts are vaulted. The interior receives the visitor above all with light: rooms merge into each other, walls and ceiling of the first floor are broken up into skillfully structured glass surfaces. Horta concerned himself not only with the overall structure of the building, but also with the decor and furnishings down to the smallest detail.
Major Works of Victor Horta
1885 : 3 houses, Twaalfkameren 49, 51, 53 in Ghent (design)
1889 : Temple of Human Passions, Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels (protected monument since 1976)
1890 : Maison Matyn, rue de Bordeauxstraat 50, 1060 Saint-Gilles
1890 : Renovations and interior decoration to the Brussels residence of Henri van Cutsem, Kunstlaan / Avenue des Arts 16, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (Today Charlier museum).
1892-1893 : Hôtel Tassel, rue Paul-Emile Jansonstraat 6 in Brussels
1893 : Maison Autrique, Haachtsesteenweg/Chaussée de Haecht 266 in Schaerbeek
1894 : Hôtel Winssinger, Munthofstraat / rue de l’Hôtel de la Monnaie 66 in Saint-Gilles
1894 : Hôtel Frison, rue Lebeaustraat 37 in Brussels
1894 : Atelier for Godefroid Devreese, Vleugelstraat / rue de l’aile 71 in Schaerbeek (modified)
1894 : Hôtel Solvay, Avenue Louise 224 in Brussels.
1895 : Interior decoration of the house of Anna Boch, Boulevard de la Toison d’Or / Guldenvlieslaan 78 in Saint-Gilles (demolished)
1895-1898 : Hôtel van Eetvelde, Avenue Palmerstonlaan 2/6 in Brussels
1896-1898 : Maison du Peuple / Volkshuis, place Vanderveldeplein in Brussels (demolished in 1965)
1897-1899 : Kindergarten, rue Sainte-Ghislaine / Sint-Gisleinstraat 40 in Brussels
1898-1900 : House and Studio of Victor Horta, rue Américaine / Amerikaansestraat 23-25 in Saint-Gilles (today the Horta Museum ).
1899 : Maison Frison “Les Épinglettes”, avenue Circulaire / Ringlaan 70 in Uccle
1899 : Hôtel Aubecq, Avenue Louise 520 in Brussels (demolished in 1950)
1899-1903: Villa Carpentier (Les Platanes), Doorniksesteenweg 9-11 in Ronse
1900 : Extension of the Maison Furnémont, rue Gatti de Gamondstraat 149 in Uccle
1900 : Department store: A l’Innovation, rue Neuve 111 in Brussels (destroyed by fire in 1967)
1901 : House and Studio for the sculptor Fernant Dubois, Avenue Brugmannlaan 80 in Forest, Belgium
1901 : House and Studio for the sculptor Pieter-Jan Braecke, rue de l’Abdication / Troonafstandstraat 51 in Brussels
1902 : Hôtel Max Hallet, Avenue Louise 346 in Brussels.
1903 : Funeral monument for the composer Johannes Brahms on the “Zentralfriedhof” in Vienna (in collaboration with the Austrian sculptor Ilse Conrat) Brahms’ grave on the Zentralfriedhof designed by Horta
1903 : Magasins Waucquez, rue du Sable / Zandstraat 20 in Brussels (since 1989 Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art.
1903 : House for the art critic Sander Pierron, rue de l’Acqueduc / Waterleidingsstraat 157 in Ixelles
1903 : Grand Bazar Anspach, Bisschopsstraat / rue de l’Evêque 66 in Brussels (demolished)
1903 : Maison Emile Vinck, rue de Washingtonstraat 85, Ixelles (converted in 1927 by architect A.Blomme).
1903 : Department store: A l’Innovation, Chausée d’Ixelles / Elsenesteenweg 63-65 in Ixelles (converted)
1904 : Gym for the boarding school “Les Peupliers” in Vilvoorde.
1905 : Villa Fernand Dubois, rue Maredretstraat, Sosoye.
1906 : Brugmann Hospital, Place A. Van Gehuchtenplein in Jette; (First design; opened in 1923)
1907 : Magasins Hicklet, Nieuwstraat / rue Neuve 20 in Brussels (converted)
1909 : Wolfers Jewellers Shop, rue d’Arenberg / Arenbergstraat 11-13 in Brussels.
1910 : House for dr. Terwagne, Van Rijkswijcklaan 62, Antwerp.
1911 : Magasins Absalon, rue Saint-Christophe / Sint-Kristoffelstraat 41 in Brussels
1911 : Maison Wiener, Sterrekundelaan / avenue de l’Astronomie in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (demolished)
1912 : Brussels-Central railway station (first designs; completed by Maxime Brunfaut and inaugurated in 1952).
1920 : Centre for Fine Arts, rue Ravensteinstraat in Brussels (first design; opened in 1928).
1925 : Belgian pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925.
1928 : Musée des Beaux-Arts Tournai in Tournai.