Victor Horta and the Art Nouveau Movement Term Paper

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Victor Horta: Art Nouveau Movement

How Does Victor Horta's Work Reflect the Aesthetics of the Art Nouveau Movement and What Were Some of the Limitations of the Art Nouveau Movement?

The enduring popularity of some older architectural works makes them stand out from their less attractive contemporary counterparts, and the art nouveau-inspired works by Victor Horta stand out among these. Horta was the son of a Belgian shoemaker who went on to become the pioneer of the art nouveau movement in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many of his buildings and the homes he designed remain influential today. In fact, Horta is even credited with introducing central heating into homes in Brussels. To determine where, when and why Horta pursued this radically new approach to architectural design and construction, this paper provides an overview of the architect's life and times, followed by a discussion of Horta and the art nouveau movement. An analysis of Horta's influence is followed by a summary of the research and salient findings in the conclusion.

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Term Paper on Victor Horta and the Art Nouveau Movement Assignment

The art nouveau movement occurred during a period in Western history when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and things were changing quickly. Social patterns were being altered in fundamental ways and people were looking for something new and exciting in their lives, and many found it in the works created by Victor Horta and his like-minded designers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this regard, Vogel and Miller (1993) report that, "Victor Horta created buildings that are the embodiment of art-nouveau architecture in Belgium" (97). According to Cantor (1988), the art nouveau movement was primarily concerned with detail elements: "It displayed an aesthetic appreciation not for the grand and the large, but for the small. How to make a dramatic window or a better door, and specifically a more attractive stairway were among its preoccupations. Just as the artists of the eighteenth century had spent a lot of time on doorways (Robert Adam), art nouveau occupied itself with the improvement of stairways (Victor Horta), wallpaper and chairs" (11). The art nouveau movement, though, was not restricted to just architecture. In his essay, "A Glorious Jungle of Art Nouveau," Greer (2000) emphasizes that:

Many artists have claimed to ride a wave of the future. Usually this has to do with arrogance and a somewhat overblown idea of what an artist supposes himself to be. In the case of Art Nouveau, the claim (though it was never made quite like that) would have been legitimate. Begun in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was the first movement in art expressly aimed at "improving" (i.e., manipulating) a mass society; to that end it covered almost every genre -- from painting and sculpture to architecture and all sorts of crafts, such as furniture making, ceramics, glass works, and jewelry. (80)

In fact, the art nouveau movement was originally referred to as "the aesthetic movement" because of its emphasis on such details, and art nouveau sought to bring beauty, sensibility and maximum utility to objects that ordinary people use on a daily basis or otherwise experience up close and personal (Cantor 11). For example, "A piece of household furniture, a decorative object, tableware, wallpaper, lithographs, were examined close up in detail, thereby articulating significant ingredients of Modernism, Art nouveau (called Jugendstil in Germany) was an important transition from the beginnings of cultural upheaval in the 1880's, to the actual focusing of a movement which around 1900 became Modernism" (Cantor 11). One of the major proponents and innovators of this new design style was Victor Horta, credited by some with introducing some of the very first art nouveau architectural and interior designs. For instance, Lenning (1951) reports that, "Before the Paris Exposition of 1900, the Belgian architect Victor Horta stands out as the Art Nouveau's most important precursor. He led the field from the very outset, having begun to practice a few years before Van de Velde, and later subscribed wholeheartedly to the French school, as is indicated by his display rooms at the Turin Exposition of 1902" (75-76).

According to one of his many biographers, Victor Horta was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1861 and went on to become the leading European architect of the movement to create a modern architecture during the 1890s (Stennott 2004:650); Horta died in 1947 (Joedicke 1959:44). Horta studied in Ghent and in Paris before enrolling in the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels; he is widely regarded as being a pioneer of modern architecture in Belgium and one of the Continent's most influential practitioners of art nouveau (Levin 2002:1). Horta's work combined what Stennott describes as "a structural rationalism influenced by the writings of E.E. Viollet-le-Duc" with a personal, curvilinear decoration that was inspired by the abstracted botanic form as proposed by V.-M.-C. Ruprich-Robert to create works of unsurpassed internal spatial complexity and organic completeness (Stennott 65).

Like some other architect-designers that would follow, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Horta's architectural projects were considered to be complete works of art because when he was provided the opportunity, Horta would design every object, "from furniture and table linens to doorknobs and andirons" (Stennott 65). Likewise, according to Levin (2002), "Victor Horta designed not only homes, but their decor and furniture as well" (1). Although Horta is frequently characterized as being just one of the practitioners of the Art Nouveau style, he was in fact the chief innovator of that style (Stennott 65). Moreover, Stennott suggests that Horta's ability to use iron and glass instead of the traditional load-bearing masonry remained unsurpassed among turn-of-the-20th century architects (650). According to this author, "In Paris in the late 1870s, Horta discovered the power of Beaux-Arts design, as exemplified by both the urban planning of Baron Haussmann's boulevards and the architecture of Charles Garnier's opera house" (Stennott 651).

Furthermore, it is clear that Horta was just the right man in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the best of what technology was providing to transform traditional design practices into something more: "Returning in 1889 for the world's fair, he was similarly drawn to the Galerie des Machines, an iron and-glass building whose trusses spanned almost 400 feet. He was amazed not only by the possibilities of Victor Contamin's engineering but also by the curvilinear decoration created by the architect Charles Dutert" (Stennott 651). In reality, though, just as Horta was heavily influenced by these events and works, his own efforts would have a profound effect on the art nouveau movement itself, and these issues are discussed further below.

Victor Horta and the Art Nouveau Movement.

There were a number of instances of inspiration, if not collaboration, between England and the rest of Europe, most particularly France, that appear to have contributed to the rise of the art nouveau movement during the closing years of the 19th century. In this regard, Stennott reports that, "Horta's mature style was perfectly tuned to the values of the haute bourgeoisie of the 1890s throughout Europe. His architecture strongly influenced emerging architects, such as Hector Guimard, whereas the superficial aspects of his decorative forms were easily copied by lesser designers" (651). Likewise, Langui and Pevsner (1962) report that, "Technique had in fact triumphed over decoration. At this point a dialogue was engaged between these two forces. The work of the architects and decorators of Art Nouveau -- in spite of the predominance of decoration and arbitrary proliferation -- began to show signs of functional intention, of concern with the practical comfort of the customer" (21). At this time, and in a dramatic departure from traditional architecture, the Art Nouveau movement began to inspire simple plans with straight lines as witnessed in the works of designers such as van de Velde, Mackintosh, Behrens, Hoffmann and, of course, Horta (Cassou, Langui and Pevsner 21).

According to Schmutzler (1962), "Victor Horta achieved, with his Maison Tassel in Brussels, the first true example of Art Nouveau architecture and of Continental High Art Nouveau in general" (114); however, as this author emphasizes, in 1893 "A style of curved and linear High Art Nouveau had thus attained full maturity in England twelve years before Victor Horta built the Maison Tassel in Brussels" (Schmutzler 111). The art nouveau movement itself was also being influenced by a range of associates with various other movements and the continuous development of the early English Art Nouveau stands in sharp contrast to the fits and starts that took place elsewhere.

For instance, Schmutlzer reports that, "From about 1870 until the end of the century, a few initiatives in this general direction occurred in France, the steel skeleton buildings of the engineer-architects probably remaining the most important" (114). Citing buildings such as Gustave Eiffel's Tower and Contamin's Hall of Machines, both built for the Paris World's Fair of 1889, have some association with the art nouveau movement that was taking place at the time by virtue of their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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