View Full Version : Victor Horta: Nouveau Monster (1861-1947)

Thursday, February 17th, 2005, 03:34 AM
Victor Horta: Nouveau Monster (1861 - 1947)

Disclaimer: When I refer to Mr. Horta as a "Monster," I mean it in the most complimentary way. I believe that Horta is a genius of his genre.

'What a fantasist this architect is -- he must have his alternating lines and curves -- but he really is a "master" at them.' ... but I am fuming:
-- 'You idiot, don't you see that everything is thought out in terms of architecture as construction, faithful to the brief to the point of sacrifice?'

- Victor Horta, paraphrasing a visitor to his Maison du Peuple

Victor Horta was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1861. He studied drawing, textiles, and architectureat the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Ghent, then went to Paris to work. He returned to Belgium and drafted for Classical architect Alphons Balat.

It was so hard for me to find a good Horta page in English, that I've come to this -- actually having to make one myself. Nothing refined about it, just some info and pretty pictures. Before I start, let me say that if it sounds like opinion, then it is. With that ...

Victor Horta was the ultimate Art Nouveau architect. Nouveau artists (pronounced new-VOH, and hereafter AN) advocated forms that were traditional, and yet, not historical. Beaux-Arts Classicism (pronounced BOH-zar, and hereafter B-AC) was the predominant form during the time (latter half of the 19th century), incorporating heavy rustication (unfinished material), engaged columns (stuck to the face of the building), and elaborate sculpture (artsy fartsy-like). B-AC loved two things "great big" and "grandeur" -- preferably combined. Reference the Paris Opera House for an example. Disciples of AN were against B-AC.

The AN movement advocated inspiration drawn from the natural form -- in other words, something with an organic feel to it. AN followers believed that B-AC was old and tired and stuck in a rut, so AN artists/architects such as Antoni Gaudi, Paul Gauguin (go-GAN), and Victor Horta started using asymmetrical patterns and forms that flowed like plants and vines growing wild in the jungle. Sound pretty? You should see it. I usually don't appreciate the busy look that NA might at first seem to carry, but NArtists taught me why the word "artistry" only looks right when it's written with curves. This is The Hallet House that Horta designed in Belgium. Characteristically, his exteriors are usually a bit ... austere. But you can usually tell a Horta house by its windows. If you could see the houses around, you'd see the regular slide-light windows, or multi-light pane windows, but Horta's windows are divided. Where other windows used wood, Horta, before anyone else, used exposed iron to frame each pane. His use of the modern material set a precedent for architects to follow. He also used iron in the grating across the second floor windows. The rail also acts to demarcate the setup of the interior of the building. Every floor is distinguished physically on the facade of the house. Many architects to come would follow suit, linking interior spaces with specific facade treatments. And do you see the moulding around the windows and alluding to the frame of the building? Instead of sharp, hard edges, you have soft, flowing sculpts that make the building look like a stone scrubbed smooth by ocean waves.

Another common characteristic of Horta's architecture focuses on his staircases. His iron banisters and stone steps combine to make a prime example of Horta's mastery over organic forms and tightly organized spaces. His staircases mapped out movement throught the building as it carried its users through the spaces. This image shows the flowing spiral of the staircase in his own home, the lines of the steps and the rails avoiding when possible any 90-degree angles. The exposed ironwork of the rails is itself a great example of AN style, distinguished by intricate curves and connections. The actual banister appears to be one whole, free-floating piece of wood. Horta paid special attention to all formerly mundane aspects of architecture such as stair banisters. Even his lighting fixtures were given special treatment. Horta believed that even the smallest architectural details deserved explicit attention.
http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/hortaskylight.jpg The skylight and wall mirror in Horta's house are further examples of new elements Horta was able to incorporate into architecture. Horta used the combination of natural light and mirrors to optimize the effect of a continous series of spaces. Metal and glass were typical combinations for Horta, acting as both functional and decorative elements. Another great feature Horta made the most of is also visible in this image. His murals, an example of which is seen below the mirror, come from the heart of AN ideals. The double curve (whiplash, swish, swoosh, swirls, whatever you wanna call it), tendril-like ornamentation, vegetal imagery, languid undiscipline and earthy colors adorned every Horta motif. The paintings don't act as a backdrop for the structural work, but rather, they work with the structural work, incorporating all architectural elements together.
Victor Horta was one of the grand daddies of Modern Architecture, and certainly a big daddy of Art Nouveau. You can cross-reference his AN contemporaries to get an idea of what else was going on in the AN zone. Louis Sullivan was the skyscraper king in Chicago in the United States, incorporating monumentality with metal and terra cotta ornamentation. Antoni Gaudi was in Spain, designing architecture with a "biological" theme loaded with surreal forms and medieval tinges in an effort to define a Catalan style. And Charles Rennie Mackintosh was in Scotland interlacing Gaelic and Celtic vernacular traditions with taut, disciplined nature-based flavors, much akin to the AN movement. Horta set a lot of precedents for the architectural world to use as springboards. His innovative use of new materials, spatial organization, and melding the ideas of structural, architectural, and ornamental into one distinctive style make him an important study for all contemporary architects who believe that art is an inseparable aspect of architecture. And to think, that strong anti-B-AC movement was so well-promoted by an Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Brussels alumni.

When the Art Nouveau phase dwindled away, Horta sold out to the neoclassical flavor. One of his last buildings, in fact, was the Palaix des Beaux-Arts in Belgium. Horta died in Belgium in 1947, and many of his buildings have been destroyed, but his former assistant, Jean Delhaye, works still to preserve his work. I believe that Horta's work spanning from 1890 to 1901 was his greatest, and definitely representative of the heart of the AN style.

A More Extensive Biography Is In Progress



MATTYN HOUSE. 1890. Brussels.Belgium
TASSEL HOUSE. 1892-3. Brussels.Belgium
AUTRIQUE HOUSE. 1893. Brussels.Belgium
FRISON TOWN HOUSE. 1894. Brussels.Belgium
WISSINGNER HOUSE. 1894-03. Brussels.Belgium
HOTEL SOLVAY. 1895. Brussels. Belgium. 224 Avenue Louise
HOTEL VAN EETVELDE. 1895-98. Brussels. Belgium
MAISON DU PEUPLE. gutted in a fire. 1896-8. Brussels. Belgium. Place Emile van de Velde
HORTA HOUSE. now MUSEE HORTA. 1898. Brussels. Belgium
A L'INNOVATION DEPARTMENT STORE. 1901-3. Brussels. Belgium. Rue Nevue
MONUMENT TO BRAHMS. 1902. Vienna.Austria
GRAND BAZAAR DEPARTMENT STORE. demolished. 1903. Frankfurt. Germany
WAUCQUEZ DEPARTMENT STORE. 1903-5. Brussels. Belgium
HALLET HOUSE. 1903. Brussels. Belgium
WOLFERS BUILDING. 1906. Brussels. Belgium
BRUGMANN HOSPITAL. 1906-26. Brussels. Belgium. Jette
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS. 1928. Doornik. Belgium. Enclos Saint-Martin B-7500 Tournai Picture Cache

Tassel House Stairs and Foyer

(You may notice that I don't have a picture of T.H.'s legendary main staircse and wall mural -- I haven't been able to find one without a hideous glare coming down from the skylight and the very ugly protective sheathing that "protects" the bottom of the mural.)

http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/tassel.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/escalier.jpg

Balustrade from Hotel Solvay http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/savoy.balustrade.jpg

Arboretum at Hotel Eetvelde http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/eetvelde..jpg

Exteriors of Maison du Peuple

http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/peuple.a.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/peuple1.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/peuple.h..jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/maison01.jpg

Victor Horta's House, Musee Horta

http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/hrta.hse.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/hortahse.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/hrtahse.ltfixture.jpg http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/hortahse.staircase.jpg

Facade of L'Innovation Department Store http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/peuple2.jpg Victor "The Dapper Dude" Horta

http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/hazeej/horta.html (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fmembers. aol.com%2F_ht_a%2Fhazeej%2Fhorta.html)

Other Links:
http://www.freewebtown.com/victorhorta/ (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.free webtown.com%2Fvictorhorta%2F)

http://www.trabel.com/brussel/brussels-museums-horta.htm (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.trab el.com%2Fbrussel%2Fbrussels-museums-horta.htm)

http://www.hortamuseum.be/ (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hort amuseum.be%2F)