Brussels, Art Nouveau capital


Brussels is famous around the world for its Grand-Place, its Atomium and its many international institutions. According to the Guardian, the Belgian capital should also be celebrated as one of the capitals and birthplaces of Art Nouveau. The British newspaper praised the city's ability to preserve these architectural treasures, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The other cities mentioned were Prague, Budapest, Glasgow, Turin, Nancy, Darmstadt, Riga, Helsinki and Aveiro.

The Guardian listed Brussels' main attractions, including the Hôtel Tassel (considered to be the first Art Nouveau building in Europe), the Hôtel Solvay, the Maison Cauchie, the Hôtel Van Eetvelde, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, the Horta Museum, the Museum of Musical Instruments and the Palais Stoclet.

Art Nouveau is an artistic movement whose aesthetics, inspired by natural curves, appeared as a reaction to the outrageous excesses of industrialisation and the restrictive reproduction of classical styles. Found in everything from jewellery to architecture, the movement spread rapidly through Europe and the United States in the early 20th century. A number of local variations appeared at this time, including Secession (in Austria), Nieuwe Kunst (in the Netherlands) and Modernismo (in Spain). Art Nouveau can be divided into two main trends: the curving style with whiplash lines typical of Brussels and Paris, and the more geometric and linear style found in Glasgow and Budapest. The genre was gradually replaced by Art Deco after the First World War.

The transformation of Brussels under the reign of King Leopold II coincided with the appearance of Art Nouveau. The architects Henry Van de Velde, Paul Hankar and above all Victor Horta were the standard-bearers for this talented generation. Their buildings exhibit the main characteristics of Belgian Art Nouveau, namely the indiscriminate use of metal and stone, exposed structures, stone decorations and ironwork with plant motifs. The mosaics and murals are also characteristic of this school. These constructions also offer a new concept of the use of space and natural lighting thanks to the widespread use of skylights.

Brussels still has more than 500 Art Nouveau buildings, even though many constructions were demolished between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 1960s.