Friday, 4 November 2011

Victor Horta Museum

I remembered only a few things from my trip to Brussels years ago:  the big square that completely floored me (the Grand Place); the Mannekin Pis, unworthy of notice, but I did go see it; and the thing I forgot until I saw it again, the Port de Hal.

Photos of the Grand Place

The square had the modern thing going on again and in a way that pushed everyone into narrow corridors around the perimeter of the square.

I was sorry that Bill didn't get to see this magnificent place without all the junk; he wasn't much impressed. 

I remember it as being almost empty and very, very Grand.

It was one of the first old European squares I saw and I think it ranks up there with Prague.  But not on this day. 

Go see it in it's real glory here; or even better, the panaramic view here, (click on the picture) but be careful you don't get dizzy!

Instead, we went into the tourist info in one of those buildings and found a map directing us to the art nouveau houses in the city.  The first we headed to was the Victor Horta Museum.  Photos were not allowed inside and it's just as well, really.  I'd still be there snapping pictures of every single exquisite detail. 

Just to show we were there. OF COURSE they were doing
construction. All of Belgium noted our arrival and got
out the diggers.*

There were books for sale as usual, but I chose not to buy one thinking the internet would cover me there, but I was only partially right.  There are images, but not the one that I would have most wanted.  I may have to return to Brussels, pay the admission fee again, look through those books more carefully and {gulp} maybe even buy one!

The layout of the house is very unusual and it's difficult to tell exactly how it was originally.  His office was next door to his house and I gather they were always adjoined, but I'm not certain.  In any case, when you go in the front door, the admissions desk and museum shop are through a door to the house on the right and this is where his office will have been.

In the residence, the ground floor is 'only' an area dedicated to a delectable hat stand and an area that seemed surrounded by doors - beautiful doors, it has to be said, but we didn't understand about that space.  I later read that this was a water closet at one point.  It seems such a sensible arrangement both from a work or home point of view.  Those are certainly the first things I want to do when I get home and just before I leave, hang/put on my coat and visit the loo.   For many of the business meetings I attended those were also amongst my first priorities.  Maybe that sounds crazy to you but I thought it made perfect sense.

One goes up some stairs next to a blank place obviously meant for a vase or something ornamental.  "Some stairs" doesn't begin to describe the place of course.  The gold painted ironwork is more like a vine than a stair rail.  This is more a fairy palace than a house.  Just off the stairs to the left and up a few more steps, putting it on a half-level, is a sitting room full of musical instruments, open to the stairs and at the front of the house overlooking the street. 

Through the door on the right was the dining room with the best French doors and garden I've ever seen.  I wasn't that fussed with the dining room furniture or even the fireplace, which is unusual.  For me, the best photograph would have been of the doors and the view of the incredible art nouveau garden.  The only way to describe it is a tangle of airy climbing plants with few vases and statues just visible and a path that soon disappeared, teasing the imagination as to what would be found beyond.  I tried the door handles but it was locked.  Admission to Eden was not included in the ticket price.  Apparently I'm not the only one who felt this way, though her photos don't begin to do it justice either.  Then again, the doorway from the dining room is pretty good, too.  (If you search for 'Victor Horta Museum' in Picasa and Photobucket you find a few more sneaky pictures, but no where have I found the view of the garden as I saw it that day.)

One could see the occasional servant's stairs, far plainer in design, but not all the house was fully renovated or open to the public.  The more prosaic areas, the business side, there were models and literally pieces of some of Horta's other buildings, notably the House of the People, and the public loos downstairs. 

The master bedroom, as I recall, had floor to ceiling wardrobes of some medium shade of wood, perhaps maple.  Whatever it was had beautiful grain and incorporated very large mirrors.  I only remember one piece of furniture in the room:  a large, ornate bed the headboard of which incorporated a nightstand on either side. 

In the wall either side of the bed were other closet doors, one of which was open to show a urinal.  The room opened out into a sitting room and dressing room (you can see this on the outline of the rooms), one wall of which was entirely wardrobes (all those tiny triangles are wardrobe doors) and from this into the luxurious claw footed bathtub in one room and a toilet in the other.  The sitting room was at the back of the house and overlooked the small garden below and the gardens of the houses immediately surrounding, which seemed to form a private square divided up by walls, but with trees, plants and ivy luxuriously draped over all.

There were other bedrooms, all with the sitting and dressing rooms and en suite toilets and baths.  Next to the room of the daughter was the 'winter garden', a sort of conservatory on the upper floor that overlooked the garden below, but also provided light and space for an indoor garden of sorts.  She also had a terrace, presumably for warm weather use.

This must be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  The metal work, the wood work, the mosaics, the use of mirrors and all the leaded glass were so stunning by the time we left I felt as though I'd eaten an entire box of the best chocolates ever.  If I was a little sick, it was from knowing I'd never live in a place as wonderful.  I've never before seen a house so entirely built to suit a small but perfectly luxurious lifestyle.  It is of course the house that Horta built for himself.  This  account is written by someone with a better memory than mine.

*Coming from a place famous for its red soils, I snapped but haven't shared a picture of the yellowest soil I've ever seen.  No idea what that was about.

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