Paul Cauchie, master of sgraffito
(Auguste) Paul Cauchie, who was born on 7 July 1875 in Ath (province of Hainaut, Belgium) and died on 1 December 1952 in Etterbeek (Brussels), was a versatile artist: a painter, interior designer, architect and interior decorator.
After starting architectural studies at the Academy of Antwerp, he decided to switch to painting. In the last decade of the 19th century, he attended the Academy of Brussels (1893-1898). A student of Montald, Cauchie learned a rediscovered technique for decorating exteriors as well as interiors: sgraffito. He was also greatly influenced by the Glasgow School, especially Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a British architect and designer, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and the main representative of Art Nouveau in Scotland.
Taken from the Italian word graffiare, meaning "to scrape", sgraffito is a mural decoration technique that involves covering a first dark-coloured layer of coating with a thin light-coloured layer. A drawing is then created by scraping the light-coloured coating while it is still wet in order to reveal the dark coating underneath. The lines of the drawings appear in relief in a dark colour. The light-coloured layer of coating can also be applied in colour. The motifs depicted may be ornamental or figurative. They employ a vast range of colours, a rich stylistic repertoire (plants, animals, symbols, history, mythology, feminine) and can provide information about the building (function, year of construction) and its owner.
Paul Cauchie is not the only architect to have built his own house. But, he did not build many others. His architectural work is very limited: three studio-houses in Brussels, two twin villas on the Belgian coast, and a villa, the Villa Dageraad (Villa l'Aurore) in Eeklo, which is now listed. But his home was a manifesto where the "avant-garde" artist and his wife, the painter Carolina Voet, nicknamed Lina (1875-1969), confirmed their tastes, and provided them with an advertisement for disseminating and selling their talent. At a time when social conformism was much more important than it is today, this required a certain degree of daring.
Guy Dessicy, one of Hergé's very first colleagues and the founder of the Comic Strip Museum, restored the Maison Cauchie and brought it back to life with the help of his wife. It is possible to visit the furnished and decorated ground floor and Paul Cauchie's vast studio, where some of his most representative works as an architect, painter and decorator are exhibited. For practical information about visits, go to: https://www.brusselsmuseums.be/en/museums/cauchie-house.