Victor Horta and Brussels

Victor Horta and Brussels

Victor Horta was born in Ghent in 1861. His father, a skilled cobbler, passed on to him a liking for a job well done and the perseverance that made him a perfectionist, sometimes allowing himself only three hours of sleep a night. Music held a strong appeal for him and he was passionate about the violin. But the Conservatoire de Musique expelled him because of a lack of discipline whereupon he enrolled in architecture ... A fortunate about-turn indeed!
In 1878, Victor Horta settled in Brussels to follow courses at the Académie des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Academy) while at the same time working to earn a living. The architect Alphonse Balat, to whom we owe the majestic Glasshouses of Laeken, hired him in his studio and, all his life, Horta would express huge gratitude to him.
Victor Horta had just completed a pavilion, at the Cinquantenaire, designed to house a monumental sculpture by Jef Lambeau symbolising The Human Passions, when his two fellow freemasons, Eugène Autrique and Emile Tassel, each entrusted him with the construction of a grand townhouse. With no backer to restrict him, Victor Horta achieved the goal he had set himself: to have complete freedom to design personal works in which he could assert the great principles of his art: the rational and strength as well as beauty and conviviality.
This was the start of a long series of gems that came to be dotted about Brussels, edifices providing innovative spaces, luminous stained-glass windows and the very opposite of the commonplace.

A ’new art’ was born

Behind Horta’s inventive mind lay a rebellious nature. His principles included: the refusal to follow fashion in order to be able to create it. The man they sometimes nicknamed the ’archisec’ (bone-dry) because of his blunt views and his scathing remarks made a clean sweep of all the neo-something styles that came before him. He wanted to construct big buildings for everyone, full of light, enthusiasm and energy, as a reaction to the grip of industry that was casting a shadow over the period.
His façades dispensed with the large stone walls, which he replaced with wrought ironwork. Rigid shapes made way for scrolls and arabesques; fauna and flora invaded the urban balconies and stained-glass windows. He created spaces that invited people to share those places. And when the use of stone was unavoidable, he moulded curves in plaster for stone-cutters to sculpt into granite or white stone.
And to complete his work, Victor Horta’s artistic vision also extended to furniture, ironmongery, wallpaper and decorative objects.

But, although the Art Nouveau movement became widely established in Europe and revolutionised the architecture and fine arts of the period, it was nonetheless short-lived. Geometry, already heralding the shapes of Art Deco, reasserted itself while at the same time retaining the new harmony invented by the creative minds of the early part of the century. There too, Horta demonstrated great mastery: a part of his body of work less well-known to the general public and waiting to be discovered.

The turning point of a career

Following 4 years of exile in the United States because of the First World War, Victor Horta returned to Brussels in great financial difficulty and frantically set to work again.

From this point on, it was very different backers who turned to him and entrusted him with very big building projects: the Musée des Beaux Arts de Tournai (Tournai Fine Arts Museum) in Brussels, the Brugmann hospital, the Palais des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Centre) and the Gare Centrale (main railway station), the Belgian Pavilion of Honour at the 1925 Paris Exhibition and the Palais de la Société des Nations (League of Nations building) in Geneva. These colossal works made him a national celebrity and earned him a Legion of Honour and the title of Baron, bestowed upon him by King Albert I in 1932.

Despite this unanimous recognition, the end of his life was to be marked by gloom: Horta regretted the fact that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of publishing his body of work and, paradoxically, made the sad decision to destroy most of his archives and drawings. Fortunately, his memoirs, written in 1939, would help us to remember the great ideas and to look back at the life of this brilliant architect who died on 8th September 1947.

Sources: the "Memoirs" of Victor Horta and the invaluable information provided by Françoise Aubry, Curator of the Horta Museum in Brussels

  • Autrique House 

    The first building created by Horta, the Autrique house has been entirely renovated and brought to life thanks to the imagination of the scriptwriters and cartoonists Schuiten and Peeters.

  • Horta museum

    The Horta Museum is established in the private house and studio of the famous architect, Victor Horta (1861 - 1947). Built between 1898 and 1901, the two buildings are characteristic of Art Nouveau at its peak.

  • Pavillon des passions humaines

    Erected in 1928 by the architect and master of Art Nouveau, Victor Horta, Pavillon des passions humaines is a centre of cultural and artistic life. A full renovation of the interior restored the original appearance of the building, as originally designed by the master, Horta. Visits are organised ("From Horta to Horta") to allow people to rediscover parts of the building previously off limits to the general public. 

  • Foundation Frison Horta

    The foundation Frison Horta sits in the middle of Rue Lebeau and was built by Victor Horta in 1894 for Georges Frison, a renowned lawyer. It is a house of nature and light with murals and frescoes of flora and fauna that engulf the whole house. Foundation Frison Horta is a cultural institution and centre for art. It acts as a cultural bridge between east and west that fosters greater understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural traditions of India in Europe and vice versa.

  • Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee - CBBD - Stripmuseum

    Stripmuseum offers two visits in one: an "archaeological" discovery, since it is housed in what used to be the Waucquez warehouse (built by Victor Horta in 1906 to house a wholesale draper?s); not to mention the building's highly original contents - comic strips - in a setting that provides space and light in abundance.


  • Brugmann Hospital

    Brugmann Hospital

    Place Van Gehuchten 4 / Bruxelles 1000
    T 02 477 21 11

  • Tassel hotel

    A UNESCO world heritage site, Tassel hotel combines all the aesthetic and practical qualities of Art Nouveau...

  • Van Eetvelde

    Van Eetvelde, Secretary General of the Congo, entrusted V. Horta with the task of building his house, Van Eetvelde house, in 1895...

  • Hallet

    Hotel Max Hallet dating from 1904, built according to the plans of V. Horta and offering a symphony of colours...