Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Art Nouveau & Comics

Brussels is home to two often forgotten arts: Art Nouveau and comics.

Brussels is the capital of Art Nouveau, with the first two Art Nouveau buildings being built here in 1893 by Victor Horta and Paul Hanker. The movement of Art Nouveau, the merging of applied art and fine art, sought to combine function and art into every part of life: architecture, furniture, textiles, household appliances, art, etc. It is recognizable by the curved lines, stained-glass windows, flora motifs, and metal & glass structures. My favorite characteristic of Art Nouveau are the Tiffany like stained-glass windows, made famous by Louis Comfort Tiffany, in so many of the buildings in Brussels.
We visited the Old England building- a classic example of Art Nouveau architecture- which houses the Musical Instrument Museum. Even though there are over 1200 Art Nouveau building in Brussels very few of them offer the public an opportunity to see the interiors and the Old England building provides one of these rare glimpses into the inside of the unique buildings - making a visit to museum worthwhile just to see the inside. While there was very little information provided in the museum in English, the music on display speaks internationally. I particularly enjoyed the room where you could play and experiment with different musical instruments.

One of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings is the Waucquez Textile Shop, designed by Victor Horta and part of a four building group that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the building is the home of the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Don't let the English website fool you - all the comics and almost all of the commentary is in French or Dutch. Do as Rick Steves recommends - visit the lobby, take photos with the comic book characters, and save your €5 entry fee to buy a beer later.

Brussels' love affair with comics doesn't end with the museum, or even the countless comic book shops around the city. They took it to a whole new level. There are 35 + sites throughout city where you can find larger than life comic character statues and murals - and more are added every year. We visited as many of them as made sense with our other site seeing - hopefully we will be back in Brussels before this adventure is over the see the rest, or at least add to our list.


Matt said...

The Smurfs were smurfed into existence by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in 1958, which is why I am seen in the picture smurfing - very Gargamel-like - next to a smurf in Brussels.

Anna said...

I love the cartoons on the buildings! This would be a great way to disguise worn walls and otherwise brighten some of the dying downtown districts in the United States.

Laura Kay said...

It is also a great deterrent to the meaningless, ugly spray paint that most building get tagged with over here.