All through the year 2018 the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) will participate in the project Horta Inside Out by offering the public and specialists alike a broad access to its collection of negatives illustrating numerous creations of the architect Victor Horta. Our photo library indeed contains hundreds of photos of buildings designed by the protagonist of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture in Belgium. Most of these are located in the Brussels Region, but there are also some examples in Flanders and Wallonia.
In 1953 the KIK-IRPA was first called upon to photograph Art Nouveau buildings by Victor Horta. The commissioner was the Norvegian art historian Stephan Tschudi-Madsen (1923-2007), a pioneer in the rediscovery of European Art Nouveau heritage. The photos were used to illustrate his study Sources of Art Nouveau, published in Oslo in 1956.
Negatives of buildings that were demolished or significantly transformed make the photo collection of the KIK-IRPA all the more interesting. In the 1950s and 1960s our institution photographed two of the architect’s emblematic buildings, which would be demolished shortly after: the Maison du Peuple and the hôtel Aubecq. The Maison Cousin (1900-1901), a less known architectural treasure, was also documented in images.
The Maison du Peuple (1896-1899) was designed by Victor Horta upon request of the Belgian Labour Party, who wanted to set up a worker cooperative. In his memoirs Horta elaborates upon his endeavour to “build a palace that would not be a palace, but a ‘house’ of which the air and light would be the luxury the workers’ hovels have been lacking for so long”. The ground floor housed shops and a bar “where the drinks would be in proportion to the administrators’ ambition to battle alcoholism”. On the storeys above ground Horta planned rooms for conferences and meetings. This large-scale programme took shape in an iron and glass architecture of which the technical and aesthetic modernity reflected the progressive vision of the still young political party. Despite all these assets and fierce international protests, the Maison du Peuple was completely demolished in 1965.
The Hôtel Aubecq (1899-1903) is a stately town house designed for the industrialist Octave Aubecq and his family. It was located on 520 Avenue Louis, in the fringes of the Bois de la Cambre. He built this villa with three facades on a plot between two terraced houses. He also designed the furniture and the complete decoration, including several monumental stained-glass windows.
In 1949, however, the City of Brussels received an application for a builder license for a “classy house” and the Hôtel Aubecq was demolished shortly after. Architect Jean Delhaye (1908-1993) took the initiative to disassemble the facade along the Avenue Louise, foreseeing a hypothetical reconstruction. Some decorative elements were furthermore kept in the collections of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels and some of the furniture found its way to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Horta was particularly pleased with this virtuoso realisation and his friend Pierre Braecke even depicted the model of the Hôtel Aubecq in one of the six bas-reliefs that ornament the architect’s private house, which has been transformed into the Horta Museum.
Horta’s transformation works to the Maison Cousin in 1900 and 1901 were photographed at their turn by the KIK-IRPA, just before the newly built annex was torn down in 1969. Horta had rebuilt the rear part of this old town house on the Chaussée de Charleroi in Saint-Gilles, adding amongst others a large winter garden with a glass roof.
Besides these photos taken by the KIK-IRPA to cherish the memory of this heritage that was doomed to disappear, our photo library contains some hundreds of reproductions of black and white photos of Victor Horta’s buildings.
These photos were taken by Jean Delhaye, who from the 1950s onwards put much effort into convincing the authorities of the necessity to protect Horta’s masterpieces. At the time the buildings were indeed threatened by the general oblivion in which art nouveau had fallen and by the unseen building pressures Brussels then experienced. Jean Delhaye tirelessly photographed the interiors and exteriors of these buildings. In 1972 Suzette Henrion-Giele, then conservator of the Horta Museum, called upon the KIK-IRPA to carry out several photo missions to once again have use of negatives of these photos.
Upon request of the Direction of Monuments and Sites the KIK-IRPA more recently carried out highly detailed photo missions in three of the four buildings in Brussels that are classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage of Humanity. It concerns the Hôtel Solvay, the Hôtel van Eetvelde as well as Victor Horta’s house and studio, transformed today into the Horta Museum.
All of Victor Horta at KIK-IRPA : by clicking on the photo of an object (e.g. a building) in the results list, one can find multiple photographs of the same object on our site BALaT, sometimes taken in different periods or from other angles...