Nouveau Artsy Fart

Stairway of the Hôtel Solvay, designed by Viktor Horta
Stairway, Horta House, designed by Viktor Horta
When I was eight years old and visiting my grandparents, I was acutely bored, enough to go rooting through their stacks and stacks of old magazines looking for something worth reading, and the thing I finally hit upon was a copy of Reader's Digest, which turned out to have two photographs of an impossibly ornate doorknob, and the back of a chair that looked more like it belonged in an art book than behind any human vertebrae. That was the first time I ever heard of Victor Horta: there were more amazing flowy-lined designs in all the photographs accompanying the article, but somehow that chair back and door knob were what really stuck in my head. The chair even has a name, which I've forgotten. It was my first encounter with the words Art Nouveau, and also the first time I had the thought that art wasn't necessarily paint on canvas. And in later years, when the friendly interpipe enabled me to find out more about the man, the thing that astounded me most was the fact that he was the architect behind the Communist Party headquarters- the Maison du Peuple- in Brussels. Communist architecture, as far as I'm concerned, tends to mean fugly boxy buildings which don't bother with basic niceties like decent planning (or, as a consequence, ventilation)- Maybe the most astounding thing for me, was the fact that the building looked that way on purpose- this page pretty much says it all "The choice of the Workers' Party also had its origins in the quest for a style that would deter the conservative middle classes." Art is so often seen as a pricey, snooty upper-class pursuit, it's a bit refreshing for me to think that beauty like this was it, and was meant for people at large. I've learned a bit about Art Nouveau illustrations and other practitioners since then, but I suppose M. Horta is always going to have first dibs on my soft spot. In any case, you're best off ignoring my yakking and looking at the pictures. Or better yet, going here or here.
Foyer of the Hôtel Tassel, designed by Viktor Horta

1 comment:

Yohan said...

Nice little trio of posts.

Art Nouveau always meant those posters for me...ornate, curly and French.

You learn something new every day!

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