Victor Horta was a leading architect and designer of Art Nouveau and his style inspired many modernist artists all over Europe. He also influenced the aesthetic ideals of the avant-garde group of artists in Belgium, such as "Les Vingt" and "La Libre Esthétique". After studying drawing, textiles and architecture at the Fine Arts Academy in Gent, he established his own practice in Brussels.
In 1893 Horta built what many consider to be the first Art Nouveau building, Tassel House. This commission established his reputation as an innovator with a scientist’s attention to detail. Tassel's house illustrates many of the elements that went into making art nouveau: an alternate "take" on historical styles, an arts and crafts sensibility, and the modern materials of iron and glass. Horta himself did not see the building as a total break with the past. The stone exterior includes the consoles, moldings, and columns of classical architecture. But the columns are iron, not stone. The building had a smooth, fluid façade, unlike the carefully articulated planes of true classical buildings.
Walking inside, a visitor would sense a different mood: the delicacy and curving "femininity" of a rococo drawing room. Yet it was alloyed by modernity in the choice of materials and their interpretation as plant forms. From a calyx like capital, the iron columns sprout slender iron strips to support the floor above. No attempt is made to disguise this material -- the rivets are clearly visible, decorative in their own right. They emphasize rather than conceal the structure.
Horta's organization of interior space was innovative. Rooms were filled with natural light (from two light wells), and the floor plan had a fluid, asymmetrical flow. To achieve an integrated whole, Horta also insisted on designing all elements of the interior decoration: the stair rail and painted wall decoration, the mosaic flooring, electric light fixtures, even the door handle are elements of a total design. Such a complete visual environment, or Gesamtkunstwerk, was thoroughly modern in its desire to place modern man in a fully modern setting. The building still stands today at 6 rue Paul-Emile Janson, Brussels.
In the late 1890s, he was commissioned by the Belgian Socialist movement to build the Maison du Peuple, which was sadly demolished in 1965. In 1898, he built his own house and workshop, now the famous "Horta Museum". The building shows one of the great innovations of Horta: the rooms are built around a central hall. From the beautiful glass ceiling light falls into the house and thereby creating a much more natural illumination of the building than was the case in the traditional late 19th century houses in Brussels and Belgium.
At the turn of the century, Horta had become widely known and designed various houses and buildings in Brussels, working for rich industrialists such as M. Solvay and political representatives, notably M. Van Eetvelde. Horta was greatly influential on Hector Guimard, who adopted many of Horta’s design ideals in pioneering the Art Nouveau style in Paris. He later designed the jewelry shop of Belgian art nouveau craftsman P. Wolfers, as well as other Department Stores, the Central Railway Station.
Horta created a stunning Art Deco masterpiece in the Palais des Beaux-Arts concert hall, completed in 1928 after more than a decade of construction. The complex contains a large concert hall, a recital room, a chamber music room, lecture rooms and a vast gallery for temporary exhibitions. He managed to put together this array of different functions on a rather small building plot with restricted conditions using more than 8 building levels with a large part situated underground.
Victor Horta was very influential in the birth of Belgian Art Nouveau Style, along with fellow architects Henri van de Velde, Paul Hankar and jeweler Philippe Wolfers. Inspired by nature, his style was swirling and linear, like the stems of plants. Tending towards unity, every material, surface, ornament, inside or outside, was harmoniously assembled with great fluidity and highly detailed by innovative shapes and lines. The buildings he created are especially significant for their interior architecture: the irregularly shaped rooms open freely onto one another at different levels; the natural design of an iron balustrade is echoed in the curving decorative motifs of the mosaic floors or plaster walls.
The organic forms of Belgium Art Nouveau architecture as established by Victor Horta generated revolutionary ideas and marked the beginning of modern architecture and design. Plant-like forms and sensuous double curves, that would later be known as "the Belgian line" were adapted to fitevery detail of his buildings, from the main structure to whole interior decoration. Elements such as the colored window glasses, lamps, clocks, wooden furniture, wrought-iron and metalwork, door handles and even the house bell all contained the linear quality of his designs.
In 1932 King Albert I of Belgium conferred the title Baron on Horta for services to Architecture. Although many of Horta's buildings have been needlessly destroyed, his former assistant Jean Delhaye worked to preserve what remained of his work. Delhaye also secured the Horta residence as a permanent museum. Horta died in Brussels in 1947. Very popular today, Horta's designs have inspired many modern silver and glass works, decorative objects and jewelry.
In 2004 Macklowe Gallery had the great fortune to purchase two pieces of furniture from the Hôtel Solvay, one of Horta’s architectural masterpieces. Macklowe obtained a bed with built in night stand and a desk which were housed in upstairs rooms at the Solvay not accessible to the public. The bed is now in an exceptional private collection on the West Coast, while the desk was acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and will be displayed in the expanded Sydney and Francis Lewis wing, set to open in 2010.