Victor Horta

Suez, Egypt

Victor Horta catches his first glimpse of a world that is dramatically changing: Japan is relieved from its isolation (1853), the Suez Canal (1869) shortens the distance between Europe and Asia, Graham Bell holds the first telephone conversation (1876), a time which inspires writer Jules Verne to write adventure stories such as “From the Earth to the Moon”.

Ghent, Belgium

Victor Horta is born in Ghent on 6 January. His father is a shoemaker. His forefathers have Spanish roots. At the young age of 12, he already seems predestined for a future as an architect. He studies architectural design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. “The Academy has taught me how to lead my hand and drawing-pen,” he later said about his first steps in architecture.

Paris, France

The artist’s heart of young Horta only starts to blossom fully when he heads for Paris in 1878. Following the advice of a friend of Vincent Van Gogh’s, he becomes a student of an architect-decorator in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre. This learning period ends abruptly in June 1880, when Horta’s father dies. In the same year, 19-year-old Victor Horta marries his childhood friend Pauline Heyse. The young couple moves to Brussels.

Brussels, Belgium

Student architect Victor Horta gets to know Brussels at a time when the city is undergoing metamorphosis under the impulse of ambitious King Leopold II. The monarch wants to give the Belgian capital a sense of grandeur. He also dreams of a large African colonial empire. In 1885, during the partition of Africa by the then-European superpowers, Leopold II becomes the private owner of the Congo Freestate.


As a trainee of Alphonse Balat, King Leopold II’s Royal Court Architect, Horta helps design a number of big building projects in Brussels between 1882 and 1889. Among them was the expansion of the Royal Domain in Laeken and the design of the area around the Palace of Justice. His own designs regularly win awards at architecture competitions, although none of them are ever realized. The biggest award goes to his design for the National Parliament building.


Horta’s first big assignment is in 1889. The young architect is commissioned to create a building for an art piece by sculptor Jef Lambeaux in the brand-new Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels. Horta designs a small temple. Its construction will be long and arduous. People are offended by Lambeaux’s “Human Passions”. In order to hide the sculpture from the public eye, Horta is forced to close the temple with a wall. The building is never inaugurated.


In less than a year, Victor Horta makes a name for himself by building two private houses in Brussels in 1893 (Tassel House House and Autrique House ). His style has never been seen before. Flowing lines dominate everything. He introduces sliding windows and cast iron pillars as heating pipes. Metal constructions are no longer tucked away. One of his biggest sources of inspiration is the interiors of ocean liners. His new style quickly gets its own name: Art Nouveau.


The Workers’ Party of Belgium wants to move to bigger premises which simultaneously symbolises socialism’s breakthrough. The socialists entrust Horta with the construction of the Volkshuis in 1896. On 1 April 1899, the building is inaugurated with 21 cannon shots and fireworks. Horta’s creation is called an “artistic tour de force”. It was a colossal and very difficult project for those times.


The lost Brussels Volkshuis comes back to life in this Horta Grand Café & Art Nouveau Room in 2000. The big support beams provided the structure of the old two-story high lunchroom. Why would we do such a thing, you ask? Because Palm Breweries creates cultural beer houses. In Dendermonde (Art Deco), in Ghent (Spijker), and now also in Antwerp. In doing so, it hopes to help spark a greater interest in Belgian cultural heritage.


With the demolition of the Volkshuis, one of Horta’s masterpieces was lost. At the same time, it whipped up a renewed interest in the architect and Belgium’s Art Nouveau history. In Brussels, several restored Art Nouveau houses designed by Victor Horta can once again be admired. Today, the Horta museum is located in his former private house.