Art Nouveau in Brussels: 12 Ways to Enjoy

Victor Horta and his associates, the founders of art nouveau in Brussels, illuminated 19th-century architecture with the light of the coming 20th century.

Barcelona may have Gaudí and France may claim the École de Nancy, but Belgium boasts Victor Horta and his associates. In modern Brussels, exemplary art nouveau details still exist aplenty in neighborhoods like Ixelles, Uccle, and Saint-Gilles. At the end of the 19th century, these communities were popular with the bourgeoisie, who could afford the new style and patronize its purveyors. A century later, they are filled with the efforts of those who sought to make beauty accessible to all.

Architectural art nouveau in Brussels was a dramatic departure from traditional Flemish gable-centric design. The photo below from S Marks The Spots, is a perfect example of how the new style illuminated the city.

art nouveau in brussels

Maison Cauchie, Brussels, 1905, Architect Paul Cauchie. Photo Credit: smarksthespots.com

Art Nouveau, according to Michèle Lavallée, writing for the Grove Dictionary of Art, paved the transition between the historic revivalism (Greek, Gothic, etc.) of the 19th century to 20th century Modernism. In 1893, a writer for inPan magazine described a wall hanging done by Hermann Obrist as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip.” Since then, “whiplash” has been the term used to describe the flowing turns and undulations that characterize the style. 

cyclamen wall hanging

Cyclamen wall hanging by Hermann Obrist inspired the “whiplash” terminology of art nouveau. Photo Credit: bernardperroud.com

After visiting Barcelona, our eyes became accustomed to art nouveau elements. Our first up-close and personal glimpse of art nouveau in Brussels occurred at a restaurant in the Ixelles neighborhood, Brasserie La Quincallerie. Seated on the catwalk level, we felt like we were in a steampunk stage set.

La Quincallerie, art nouveau in Brussels

Brasserie La Quincallerie. Photo Credit: La Quincallerie

We read from the menu that this was a former hardware store, designed by a student of Victor Horta. Who was Victor Horta we wondered? From then, the chase was on.

Horta and his colleagues, we learned, strengthened interior structural elements in their buildings using metal, allowing for open, light-filled interiors. Their stylized motifs were drawn from nature – the floral or animal pattern, the feminine silhouette, and the traditional arabesque. Between 1892, when Horta designed the Hôtel Tassel, and the first World War, art nouveau in Brussels matured from the flamboyant to the classical.

Detail of Maison Eigenwoning designed by Albert Roosenboom, Rue Faider 83,

Detail of Maison Eigenwoning designed by Albert Roosenboom, Rue Faider 83. The letterbox is the opening on the column.

Since that evening, we’ve discovered a dozen different ways you can get your fix for art nouveau in Brussels, too:

1. Introduce yourself to Victor Horta, the father of art nouveau in Brussels, and perhaps the world.

Horta Museum – located in the private house and atelier of the architect, whose Brussels townhouses are now designated in a UNESCO World Heritage listing for “brilliantly illustrating the transition from the 19th to the 20th century in art, thought, and society.” The two buildings were constructed between 1898 and 1901, with additions in 1906 and 1908.

Horta residence, art nouveau in Brussels

The Horta Residence, now the Horta Museum

Horta was a pre-eminent art nouveau creationist, adapting the style to architecture in 1893. He was a professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts, and was granted the title of Baron by King Albert I of Belgium in 1932.

The residence’s interior spaces flank a central staircase which is lit by a glass skylight, allowing light to circulate throughout. The house, although it was built in 1898, is amazingly relevant to the needs of a contemporary lifestyle. Horta’s gracious gilding, light tile details, and open living concept must have seemed revolutionary to post-Victorians. Since no photography is allowed in the interior, we found an outstanding video which will take you through and introduce you to Horta’s other works:

Victor Horta – Architect and Designer Video:

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 14:00-17:30, last entry at 17:15. Adult admission: 8€, Students, Seniors and St. Gilles residents: 4€. Rue Américaine, 23-25, 1060 Brussels (Saint-Gilles). Trams: 81, 91, 92, 97 (place Janson). Bus: 54 Guided tours and private visits available. Reminder: no interior photography allowed.

2. Amble around the Ixelles/Louise neighborhoods on an informal walking tour of art nouveau in Brussels.

Pick up a paper guide at the Horta Museum to 10 additional buildings within walking distance designed by Horta or his associates, Paul Hankar, Albert Roosenboom, Octave van Rysselberghe and Jules Bruneaut. Worthy of note on this tour are two out of the additional three Horta townhouses (his former home housing the museum being the first) designated on the UNESCO list:

a. Hôtel Tassel, Rue Janson-straat 6, 1000 Brussels. According to UNESCO, the founding work of Art Nouveau in Brussels, commissioned by Professor Emile Tassel, designed and built in 1893-4. Horta designed furniture for this house for several years thereafter. From the Wikipedia description: “Two rather conventional buildings in brick and natural stone – on on the side of the street and one on the side of the garden – were linked by a steel structure covered with glass” which functions as a connector and light source.

Hotel Tassel art nouveau in Brussels

Hôtel Tassel Stairway. Photo Credit: y Henry Townsend (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“At the time it was built, the Tassel house was roundly condemned by conservative, Catholic forces in Belgian society, the then Archbishop of Brussels denouncing its curved bay windows as ‘sensuous’ provocations liable to induce thoughts of a pregnant woman’s abdomen.”  Brussels: revisiting the magic of Victor Horta, Adrian Bridge, Telegraph, 3 Oct 2011

art nouveau in Brussels

Hôtel Tassel’s curved bay window. Does this look like a pregnant woman’s belly to you?

b. Hôtel Solvay, Avenue Louise-Louizalaan 224, 1050 Brussels. Commissioned by Armand Solvay, heir to the chemical company that developed sodium bicarbonate, who granted Horta creative and financial carte blanche. Built from 1895-98, furniture completed in 1903. In 1980, it underwent a massive restoration including glass roofs on the main staircase, facade and interior decoration. Interior is intact with original art and functioning utilities. Still privately owned, but open to the public several times per year. A 1984 New York Times article noted several innovations which were firsts in Brussels: first house to be lighted entirely by electricity, first to use glass partitions and skylights to flood the central stairwell, fresh air system via duct network, rotating bathroom sinks empty instantaneously, rooms are laid out to conceal the movements of servants, interior walls move, open and close for public and private use.

Hotel Solvay, art nouveau in Brussels

Hôtel Solvay

hotel solvay, art nouveau in Brussels

Stairway in the Hôtel Solvay. Photo Credit: arkiplus.com

3. Take a guided tour of art nouveau in Brussels with an expert.

ARAU Guided Tours L’ARAU (Atelier de Recherché et d/Actions urbaines) offer guided coach and walking tours in French and English on a rotating weekend schedule. Topics: Art deco, modernism and art nouveau in Brussels districts, Horta, commerce and trade, Brussels cuisine. Prices per person start at 10€ with discounts for -25/+65 years and the unemployed. Pre-booking is required. Private group tours can be arranged for any day in English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish or Italian. Guides have a background in urban planning, architecture or art history, with thorough knowledge of Brussels. L’ARAU is a non profit whose objective is to promote Brussels as a place where people want to live by examining urban development projects and attempting improvements through housing and mixed-function initiatives, adding public space and integrating social classes. Memberships: 25€ includes 4 free guided tours and discounts on other activities.

art nouveau in brussels

Massive door of Maison Sander Pierron, designed by Victor Horta, Rue de l’Aquaduc 157

4. Attend the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Biennial Event 2015.

Visit Brussels celebrates the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Biennial Event 2015 with 6 guided tours of house interiors each weekend in October, 2015. Includes residences in the Uccle, Forest, Saint-Gilles, Avenue Louise, and City Centre. Tickets: 20€ per tour. A search query for “art nouveau” on the Visit Brussels site yields more than 150 results.

art nouveau in Brussels

Decorative canopy at the City of Brussels offices, Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles

5. People watch over a coffee from the sidewalk Cafe Métropole.

art nouveau in Brussels

Take a table at the Cafe Metropole

Café Métropole – Place de Brouckère, 31, 1000 Brussels. Tel. (+32) 2 214 26 27. High-end brasserie, founded in 1890. Original art nouveau interior and exterior. Lavish interior and French-style heated terrace seating. Mon-Fri 09:00 – 01:00, Sat-Sun 11:00-01:00.

6. Celebrate happy hour A La Mort Subite.

art nouveau in Brussels

A la Mort Subite

A La Mort Subite, Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, 1000 Brussels. Tel. (+32) (0)2 513 13 18. Formerly an establishment by the name of La Cour Royale, this restaurant was popular with bank employees playing a dice game called “421.” The loser of the last game played before returning to the office was dubbed “Mort Subite” (sudden death). In 1928, the pub was renamed “At the Mort Subite.” On draft: Cherry, Faro, Peach, Raspberry, Lambic White, Maes Pils, Special Palm, Abbey Dark and Blond beers, Trappist Blond and Dark. Foreign varieties, aperitifs, wines, specialty waters and juices, tonics, teas and coffee.

Happy Hour with Belgian friend Géry de Pierpont, of IntoHistory

Happy Hour with Belgian friend Géry de Pierpont, of IntoHistory

6, 7 and 8. Indulge in atmospheric cuisine de brasserie.

De Ultieme Hallucinatie, Rue Royale 315, 1210 Brussels. Tel. (+32) 2 217 06 14 Restaurant Brasserie in an original neoclassical mansion built in 1850. Restructured and redecorated in 1904 by architect Paul Hamesse in a “contemporary geometrical art nouveau style.” Other rooms influenced by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and French art nouveau. Jugendstil stained glass windows in the orangeries. Mon-Sat 18:00-23:00

art nouveau in Brussels

Interior of De Ultieme Hallucinatie. Photo Credit: De Ultieme Hallucinatie

Brasserie La Quincaillerie, Rue de Page 45 , 1050 Brussels (Ixelles). Tel. (+32) 02 533 98 33. Designed by a student of Victor Horta, this former ironmonger’s hardware store is known for its fresh seafood and oysters. The restaurant maintains its own farm where lambs, pigs, and fowl are raised. Oysters are specially cultivated in two varieties in a collaboration with growers, and their House Beer is a private brew of finely hopped triple top-fermented beer. Mon-Sat 12-2pm and 7-Midnight. Sunday 7-Midnight.

La Quincallerie art nouveau in Brussels

Brasserie La Quincallerie. Photo Credit: La Quincallerie

Le CirioRue de la Bourse 18, 1000 Ville de Bruxelles. Tel. (+32) 025 12 13 95. Dating from 1886, a typical Belgian brasserie frequented by Jacques Brel. The half in half (half champagne and half white wine) is a specialty, and we can attest to its deliciousness. Moderate prices, menu items range from appetizer size, croques and baguette sandwiches, pasta and traditional Belgian entrees such as waterzooi (a kind of chicken stew, great comfort food) and steak à l’americaine (inexplicable name, sort of like steak tartare, but comes on the plate looking like flattened raw hamburger. Hint: mix the accompanying condiments into it, and it’s pretty tasty.)

IMG_1195

9. Shop for art nouveau personal treasures.

Senses Art Nouveau, Rue Lebeau 31, 1000 Ville de Bruxelles. Art nouveau originals and reproductions, jewelry, gifts and accessories, starting from under 25€ to well over 250€. Tel. (+32) 025 02 15 30.

art nouveau in Brussels

Art nouveau facade of Hill’s Music Shop, Brussels

10. Experience the multi-dimensional aspects of art nouveau in Brussels.

Musee Fin-de-Siècle, newly opened in 2013, offers a multi-disciplinary, dynamic approach to the creative arts from 1868-1914 in partnership with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Royal Library, the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and several foundations. Presents art nouveau architecture with integrated 3-D images of six houses. Rue de la Régence/Regentschapsstraat 3, 1000 Brussels. Tel. (+32) 025 08 32 11. Open Tues-Fri 10-17:00, Weekends 11-18:00 Adults: 8€, Seniors: 6€

art nouveau in Brussels

Facade of Maison Ciamberlani, designed by Paul Hankar, associate of Victor Horta, Rue Defacqz 71

11 and 12. Spend the night in art nouveau surroundings.

B&B Art Nouveau Rue Georges Moreau 1070, near the Brussels Thalys and Gare du Midi, built in 1906. Small guest apartment in the home of an employee of the Horta Museum consists of a double bedroom, lounge, kitchen, private bathroom and WC. Please note the bathroom is only accessible via a narrow spiral staircase. Two night minimum stay, from 66.95€. Tel. (+32) 026 46 07 37

art nouveau in brussels

Photo Credit: Hotel Metropole

Hotel Métropole, Place de Brouckère 31, B-1000 Brussels. Tel. (+32) 2 217 23 00 Designed by French architect Alban Chambon with Empire influences, stained glass, mahogany, teak, marble and bronze notes. One of the first hotels with lifts, electricity and central heating in Europe. Requisitioned by the Germans during WWII, and later by the Allies. Award-winning restaurant L’Alban Chambon (2 red chef’s hat and 16/20 in GaultMillau culinary guide). Rooms from 104€ on weekday nights.

art nouveau in brussels

Residential doorway window and grill treatment

Pinnable Images:

pinterest 1

art nouveau in Brussels

Note that we previously touched on a style of art nouveau, Jugendstil, in Schwabing: Where the 20th Century Took Hold in Europe. If you would like to see more art nouveau world-wide, view this excellent set of three videos below:

Art Nouveau Architecture (1 of 3)

Art Nouveau Architecture (2 of 3)

Art Nouveau Architecture (3 of 3)

Comments

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jessica – We were fascinated, too, and would have loved to spend a couple of days at the Hotel Metropole!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lydian – I think the biennial will be a marvelous opportunity to experience Brussels’ art nouveau heritage in far more depth. Hope you get to go!

  1. says

    Hi Betsy! Thank you for introducing me to Victor Horta. I would love to visit his museum, and just wander around Brussels taking in all this gorgeous architecture. I laughed at the Archbishops provocative window comment. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a provocative window 🙂 I’ll be back again to watch the videos.
    Nancie has an awesome blog post here: Korea: Tea World Festival in SeoulMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – You’re so welcome! Yes, the Archbishop’s comments…who even thinks that way? LOL

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anne – You’re so right. It was great fun hunting down some of these addresses. We began to be able to spot them right away.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Toni – Yes, La Quincallerie was definitely the spark. The catwalk level might be a bit precarious for those who are wary of heights (it’s quite narrow), but once I got to my seat, it was amazing.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Andrea – Budapest is my favorite city in Europe. I would love to return and scout out the art nouveau neighborhoods. I’m guessing they’d be somewhere close by Városliget?

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kristen – Once you develop an eye, you’ll see art nouveau almost everywhere in Brussels, even within a block or two of Grand Place. Amazing city.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – I’m sure you’d love it, and you’re so close you could make a nice weekend of it.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi zof – Yes, it definitely has a cutting edge aspect, probably because Brussels was the vanguard.

  2. says

    This is an interesting article, and you are right. When it comes to architecture, it is easier to overlook Brussels when there are cities like Barcelona and Paris. I was actually in Brussels a few months ago and really loved the architecture of the buildings. It was probably one of my favorite parts of Belgium as a whole. Now I learned even more about it. Thanks 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kate – Brussels has a lot to offer. We thought it had a great Parisian-like vibe, but so much friendlier.

  3. says

    Hi Betsy,
    Steampunk stage set indeed! — at Brasserie La Quincallerie.
    And the Art Nouveau, well what can I say? I am so inspired by these photos and videos — and thank you because I am in the middle of writing an article this weekend that is near deadline and was feeling a bit stale — so I took a break to read your blog. I receive so much inspiration from experiencing great art in any form. It’s like I get permission to be creative myself. The incredible artistic expression in their “new” art is stunning — and very brave at the time.
    So thank you my friend. Now I’ll go create a fantastic article!
    Take care,
    Josie
    Josie has an awesome blog post here: 5 Distilled Travel Tidbits From Around the World: July 2015My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Josie – You’re right, sometimes we just need to take a break and drink it in. That’s how we felt during our two stays in Brussels. The first week we absorbed so much, and then we left for England for a couple of weeks. Upon return, it felt like our impressions had the time to marinate and we were more than ready for the next course of ten days!

  4. says

    Brussels is so underrated as a destination, as is Belgium. We were told that they were “different”; for us we found different to be a very good thing. The Art Nouveau of Brussels and the influence of Horta have made this a visually amazing city, both inside and out as your photos show. We found Brussels to be a beautiful city both in appearance and with the people we met. Since we have visited there, we have often run across people from Brussels (who were actually really from Brussels) who are amazed, yet happy that we liked it there a lot.
    Paula McInerney has an awesome blog post here: Blue Mountains of NSW AustraliaMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Paula – I totally agree. We had no idea what to expect in Brussels, and were pleasantly surprised at every turn. Everyone we met was just lovely and the approach to life is one that resonated with us: beautiful surroundings, excellent food and drink, interesting company. We could easily live there for an extended period.

  5. says

    I love the way your curiosity about the information you read on a restaurant menu led you on this art nouveau odyssey in Brussels. I learned so much from reading your blog and looking at the photos and videos. Well done!!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Marilyn – Curiosity gets us into all sorts of things as travelers, doesn’t it? Thank you.

  6. says

    Brussels was one of the first places we visited when we started traveling. The beautiful buildings and architecture literally took my breath away! I love how you stumbled upon Victor Horta and just had to learn more! What a great way to explore a new place with enthusiasm. You certainly captured some amazing examples of art nouveau and give us an amazing path to follow on our own journey of exploration. LOVE Café Métropole!!
    Cheryl has an awesome blog post here: Exploring Scotland with Timberbush ToursMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cheryl – We never expected to even visit Brussels, much less be so captivated by all it has. But, as you and Lisa well know, sometimes there are other plans in store for us. We love the luxury of being open to whatever presents itself. In this case, it was a big gift.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Claudia – We really had no idea what to expect. This was a fun discovery in a fascinating city which is under the radar for a lot of people.

  7. says

    I’ve been to Brussels a number of times, usually connected to work, and I’ve always admired the art nouveau architecture as I passed it by chance. But I’ve never gone and looked at it purposely. Next time I’m there (likely for work again), I’ll make time to look some of these up! Thank you! I always love your in-depth take on what you see!
    Rachel has an awesome blog post here: Tai O, Village on StiltsMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Rachel – How lucky you are! I hope you might get there for the October Biennial. It sounds like a wonderful event.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – They’re tucked away, mostly, among more traditionally styled buildings. We did find an entire side street of art nouveau buildings in the Saint Gilles neighborhood by La Porteuse d’Eau restaurant, on the corner of Ave Jean Volders and Rue Vanderschrick. These are very unpretentious, lived in by “normal” renters, it would appear. This location is within walking distance of the Midi station if you’re close. 🙂

  8. says

    We fell in love with the flamboyant style of Art Nouveau several years ago and totally enjoyed exploring Barcelona’s offerings while we were there. Thanks for the introduction to Victor Horta and his architecture, especially the Horta Museum and Tassel house. We’re hoping to get to Brussels in 2016 and will definitely be checking out its awesome architecture.
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go has an awesome blog post here: One Steet and Three Architects: Barcelona’s “Block of Discord”My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – I know you’ll love Brussels. It’s definitely a little more restrained than Barcelona, but I think that’s an add to the loveliness. I’ll be very interested in your opinions.

  9. says

    This is my favorite post of all your entries Betsy since I’m an Art Nouveau fan so this really is spectacular. Great job and now I have to put Brussels on my must visit places with all those stunning buildings and interiors especially that first image of that restaurant – wow!
    noel has an awesome blog post here: Chicago river cruiseMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Noel – If you’re a fan, you simply must visit the next time you’re in Europe. La Quincallerie is not only gorgeous, but the food is outstanding, too.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – We love it, too. So reminiscent of a moment in time where things were uniquely beautiful.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kay – The whiplash was a new one on us, as were many of the details we discovered. And we’d love to stay at the Hotel Metropole, too. 🙂

  10. says

    Huge thanks for the introduction to Victor Horta. And now I see there’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site to put on my list. I’m feasting my eyes on each of your photos — you’ve captured the beauty of these designs perfectly.
    Cathy Sweeney has an awesome blog post here: Rome in a Day: The GrandeurMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cathy – Yes, UNESCO is everywhere! I didn’t quite expect this of them, but I’m glad.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lois – Neither did we. What an amazing and unexpected surprise to a city we grew to really like.

  11. says

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Even with your excellent narrative, the photos definitely helped me to understand what Art Nouveau is about. Victor Horta is a new name for me too. Having recently been in Barcelona (Gaudi-land), I’d say that now Gaudi reminds me of Victor Horta— on LSD.
    Suzanne Fluhr has an awesome blog post here: An Introduction to the Wine Regions of SpainMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – I think you hit the nail squarely on the head with your assessment of Gaudí. He is definitely on the fantastical side of the art nouveau spectrum. While I am ever amazed by Gaudí, I think Horta’s work would be more livable for me were I ever lucky enough to dwell in one of his creations. Going through the museum in his personal home, I felt very much as though I could easily live there. Gaudí? Not so much (although to be fair, I’ve only been in the castle he built for Gala).

  12. says

    Another great post, Betsy. I’ve really enjoyed the Horta houses and Art Nouveau sprinkled all around Brussels on my past visits, but but would love to return for a more in-depth exploration…especially if it includes a stop at La Quincallerie!
    Anita has an awesome blog post here: Eating light in Porto, PortugalMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – Two words about La Quincallerie: arrive hungry. We did not and could only eat appetizers. What a waste! We won’t make that mistake again!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Rossana – So glad you enjoyed it. We’re very taken with our new friend, Mr. Horta, too. 🙂

  13. says

    This is a great article. My boyfriend and I are currently cycling our way through The Netherlands heading southward to Belgium. We’re still debating if we should go to Brussels because so many Europeans speak poorly of it ????. Articles like this make me want to try it out. How long were you there?
    Alex has an awesome blog post here: The Lover’s Guide to BerlinMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alex – We actually had two recent stays: one for a week, and then one for ten days several weeks later. Brussels is really underrated, at least what we’d heard beforehand. It’s one of our favorite European cities now.

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