When visiting Brussels, it is very easy just to concentrate on the attractions of central Brussels, around the Grand Place or the Mont des Arts, or to make a trip out to the Atomium. However, Brussels has a number of attractions out in the residential areas of the city that are well worth visiting. What’s more, the efficient public transport system makes it easy for travellers to visit these places, via bus, tram or underground.
Brussels was a centre of excellence for the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements of the early 20th century, so during the course of our trip to Brussels, we decided to spend half a day visiting three of these architectural masterpieces. Villa Empain, the Van Buuren Museum, and Horta Museum were all impressive, and we left with a new wonder and understanding of Brussels’ architectural heritage.
A separate trip was also planned for an equally significant, although less remarkable, house, that of the Rene Magritte House Museum. We tagged this visit on to our day at the Atomium, with the house museum being only a thirty-minute walk from the atomic icon.
We found the Villa Empain on the wide, busy Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, amongst many embassy buildings. The building was a private mansion of 2,500 square metres built in 1930 and has had quite a colourful history, itself having been the embassy of the Soviet Union for some years.
Villa Empain is a masterpiece of Art Deco and is now home to the Boghossian Foundation which hosts a rich artistic program throughout the year, with an emphasis on bringing together the cultures of the East and the West.
The artwork on display was interesting, but it is definitely the building itself that is the star of the show. We didn’t feel that the villa was particularly homely, but the stark, clear lines of the design were very pleasing on the eye.
At the rear of the villa, there was also a beautiful swimming pool that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Hockney painting. The day we visited, the pool area was being used for some sort of photoshoot, so it was obvious that the art director of the shoot had similar feelings about the pool as we did.
Van Buuren Museum
After a 35-minute walk from the villa, we found the Van Buuren Museum in an affluent residential suburb of Uccle. At first sight, the house, which was built in 1928 for the banker and patron of the arts David van Buuren, looks like a large and unremarkable residence. However, as you approach the door to this home, turned museum, you quickly notice the little design gems woven into the door, windows and structure of the house.
After moving through the museum reception into the living accommodation it soon becomes apparent why van Buuren’s house is considered a masterpiece of the Art Deco movement. The attention to detail is a delight, whether it is the structure of the house or the ornamentation and furniture.
We were in for an additional treat, since an exhibition of contemporary arts and sculptures were dotted throughout the house. Sometimes it was hard to discern whether the art was actually part of the house furnishings or not.
The museum’s centrepiece is the house, built in the style of the Amsterdam School, but this artistic and designed approach was also brought outside to the well-manicured gardens. The gardens are spread over 1.5 hectares and are separated into charming sections.
Horta Museum (Musee Horta)
Another walk, this time only taking 20-minutes, brought us to the Horta Museum. Before visiting Brussels, we were not overly familiar with the Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (1861-1947). During our Brussels trip, however, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the works of this contemporary of Barcelona’s Gaudi. There are many examples of Horta’s stunning designs throughout the capital and we choose to visit the centre piece of his work – his own private house and studio, which has now been turned into the Horta Museum.
His house was built between 1898 and 1901 and the architect lived there till 1919. The interior decoration has largely been retained and there is a permanent display of furniture, utensils and art objects designed by Horta and his contemporaries as well as documents related to his life and time.
Unfortunately, there is a strict no photography policy within the museum, so you are just going to have to take our word for it that the interiors are amazing.
Rene Magritte House Museum
Most people are probably aware of the work of the surrealist painter Rene Magritte. Indeed, there is a very informative and impressive museum dedicated to his work in the Sablon area of central Brussels – the Musee Magritte. After spending a couple of hours studying his interesting, puzzling and challenging artworks, we decided that we needed to visit the Rene Magritte House Museum, which was also his studio where almost half his work was created.
But what was surprising to us was that the flat that he lived in was very modest. The painter lived from 1930 to 1954 in this ground floor apartment and it has been lovingly restored to how it would have looked. The flats upstairs have also been purchased by the museum and they now host a biographical exhibit, holding a collection of over 400 archive documents, photos and objects, as well as 30 original works.
The docent was very informative and painted a great picture of Magritte and his life, bringing this plain and compact home to life.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue in Brussels, Belgium.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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