Culture: Atelier Ernest Salu

As you could read before, last weekend I went in for my second round of the Banad Festival. First stop of the day: Atelier Ernest Salu, located next to the cemetery of Laeken. I had never heard of this place before. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that we have our own version of the Père Lachaise in Brussels and even more than that. The atelier is the only one world-wide to be focusing on funerary art. I know I know, that does sound creepy. But once you enter the building, you see how that’s actually a really nice thing. Let me give you a sneak peek.

Atelier Ernest Salu

First thing you should know: there’s not just one Ernest Salu, there were three of them. Ernest I, Ernest II and Ernest III. Luckily for them they were more talented in sculpturing than in making up names. Ernest the First studied Arts in Brussels and after finishing his first funeral monument, he decided to buy some land next to the cemetery of Laeken. That proved very successful and ten years later he was able to build his very own atelier and a house next to it.

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Now let’s have a look at the cemetery first. If you’ve visited the place or if you just have a look at the pictures, you’ll notice that it’s not just your ordinary one. The reason for that is quite simple. The first king and queen of Belgium – Leopold and Louise-Marie – wanted to gain some credibility and prestige by founding their very own church with crypt. And decided to do so in Laeken. Because of the royal presence there, the upper class of the Catholics in Brussels were very eager to reserve their own tombs nearby. That created a large demand for luxurious funeral art. Now let’s get back to our Salus.

Atelier Ernest Salu Banad

Three generations Salu were able to stand their ground in the atelier. The original decoration of the Salle d’Expo (exhibition hall) provides proof for that. Damask, expensive armchairs and even a fountain with goldfish created the perfect background for extravagant balls – according to the two daughters of Ernest the Third. Once more affordable tombs made their way into the market, sales rapidly dropped and the atelier closed its doors. Luckily, there are still plenty of remnants left to marvel at. And the three men also provided plenty of photographs which can be consulted online.

Atelier Ernest Salu

What about nowadays? The non-profit organisation Epitaaf made it their mission to preserve the atelier and all that’s left of Salu’s works. They don’t usually open their doors to the public – but they make an exception for Banad and the so-called Belgian Open Monument Day. It’s quite admirable what they manage to achieve while only leaning on volunteers. They name themselves taphophiles. Which actually means that they’re all interested in the funeral arts and practices. Again, that sounds a little macabre but as Epicurus once said: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And once it does come, we no longer exist.”

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Which probably means that we should just look at those marvellous tombs as impressive works of art. Apparently, Victor Horta himself found the design of a tomb way more complicated than that of an entire house. My advise to you? Go and visit the cemetery of Laeken and if you can, also the Atelier Ernest Salu. It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve visited in Brussels so far, but also one of the most interesting ones.

Atelier Ernest Salu
Parvis Notre-Dame 16
1020 Bruxelles
Website Epitaaf

 

Banad – Weekend 2

First of all: what’s Banad you may be wondering? Well, Banad is short for Brussels Art Nouveau Art Deco, an event hosted by the non-profit Explore Brussels. It’s a ‘festival’ which takes place over three weekends in March and celebrates the beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in Brussels. Some of these are open to the public all year round, but a lot of them exclusively open their doors for this event. You have the chance to fulfil your nosiness and at the same time learn some interesting facts about the Brussels architecture scene. Sounds interesting? That’s what I thought. So I went and bought my ticket for eight visits spread over three Sundays. Here’s a glimpse of the second batch (find the first one here)!

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Ancien atelier et maison du sculpteur Ernest Salu

I’m writing a more in-depth article about this visit later on this week, but I’ll give you a quick summary right here. Ernest Salu – actually there were three generations Ernest Salu – was a sculptor specialised in funeral art. The atelier started in 1872 and was/is located right next to the cemetery of Laeken. For the bourgeoisie, a well-made tomb was a way to establish themselves as important, even after death. That’s why a lot of them ordered their tombs well in advance when they were still alive and breathing. Ernest I, Ernest II and Ernest III obviously made a good living out of it, judging from the decoration of their atelier. In 1984, after the arrival of cheaper alternatives, the last Ernest closed the atelier and that was the end of it.

Not really though. The non-profit organisation Epitaaf made it their mission to take care of the cultural heritage that are the atelier and the remaining tombs by Salu spread all over the cemetery of Laeken and some other ones throughout the country. The volunteers not only organise tours, but they also make an effort of restoring the artworks little by little. The idea of a funeral arts atelier may sound a little distressing, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll be glad you did.

The atelier is not usually open to the public, but they make an exception for the Banad Festival and yearly open their doors as a part of the Belgian national heritage days. So if you want a glimpse – which I definitely recommend – check out the dates and clear your schedules!

(Normally it’s forbidden to take pictures inside, I obtained the right to do so thanks to Epitaaf. So don’t just take a snapshot when you visit, ask them first!)

Ancien atelier et maison du sculpteur Ernest Salu
Parvis Notre Dame 16
1020 Bruxelles
Website Epitaaf

I, Karl Stas [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Copyright Karl Stas

Hotel Tassel

Don’t be fooled by the name: Hotel Tassel is not actually a hotel. It was however the house of Professor Tassel and designed by the famous architect Victor Horta in 1893. Horta was working on the Maison Autrique and after seeing what he did there, Tassel gave Horta carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the design of his house. The result? A composition of two seperate houses, one in the front and one in the back, connected by a staircase and a winter garden. Hotel Tassel was also the first Art Nouveau house: the Art Nouveau organisation was only founded in 1895, two years after the completion of Hotel Tassel.

What’s it like inside? First of all, the two houses have a different function. The one in front served as a more public space. Tassel’s students were welcome in the very first room of the house and he received friends there as well. There’s also a lot to say about the decoration. Victor Horta is known to put a lot of effort in every detail of the buildings he designed, not only on the outside but also on the inside. Glass and iron are important parts of the interior, creating a very light and open look. The stained glass windows were designed to reflect some of the owner’s interests. The ones in the smoking room represent an abstract impression of smoke, the ones in the hallway were inspired by Japanese art. Apart from that, symmetry is probably the most obvious property of the house – returning in the ceulings, doors, wallpaper… The so-called whiplash-design (coup de fouet) returns both on the floors and the hallway murals.

As Tassel was a freemason, Horta tried his best to integrate symbols of the freemasonry. And succeeded to do so. The hall downstairs is shaped like an octagon – an important part of the masonic culture. Seven stairs lead up to the living room. A flaming sun is pictured on the floor. And who knows what other secrets are hidden in the design of the building.

A consultancy agency currently occupies the building, which means it’s very rarely open to the public. Again Banad offers a nice way to get a look behind the scenes of an otherways private property. So be prepared for next year if you fancy a visit!

Hotel Tassel
Rue Paul Emile Janson 6
1000 Ixelles
Tripadvisor

 

Culture: Maison Autrique

Brussels has a lot to offer when it comes down to museums. From a Comics Museum to the Royal Botanical Gardens and everything in between. The architectural side of Brussels maybe lesser-known to some of you, but can’t be ignored. Especially the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements are very well represented – which is exactly what I’m going to talk about today. On a gloomy Sunday I went to Schaerbeek to visit one of the earliest buildings Victor Horta ever designed: the Maison Autrique.

Maison Autrique

The building dates from 1893 and is the first memorable design from Horta. Who’s Horta you’re wondering? He was probably the most important Belgian Art Nouveau architect. He designed several buildings in Brussels and even has his own museum. Some of his creations have disappeared over the years, but this one was instead renovated in a way that best represents the original decoration dating from the 19th century.

Maison Autrique

The pictures may give you an idea of what the place looks like, but to be honest you have to visit it by yourself to truly see what it’s about. You feel a little bit like entering a world long gone. Everything, from stairs to wallpaper, has been thoroughly selected.

Maison Autrique

At the moment there’s an ongoing exhibition about Camille Jenatzy and ‘la Jamais Contente’. The engineer was born in Schaerbeek and was the first man ever to achieve 100km/hour. ‘La Jamais Contente’ was his vehicle of choice. His story is told throughout the building through short texts and some of his drawings. So even if you’re not an Art Nouveau-lover (but instead of that a car-lover), you should go give the exhibition a look.

Maison Autrique

Practical information

Maison Autrique
Chaussée de Haecht 266
1030 Schaerbeek
Website

Entrance is free every first Sunday of the month!

 

Banad – Weekend 1

Flagey Building Banad

First of all: what’s Banad you may be wondering? Well, Banad is short for Brussels Art Nouveau Art Deco, an event hosted by the non-profit Explore Brussels. It’s a ‘festival’ which takes place over three weekends in March and celebrates the beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in Brussels. Some of these are open to the public all year round, but a lot of them exclusively open their doors for this event. You have the chance to fulfil your nosiness and at the same time learn some interesting facts about the Brussels architecture scene. Sounds interesting? That’s what I thought. So I went and bought my ticket for eight visits spread over three Sundays. Here’s a glimpse of the first batch!

I didn’t have permission to make pictures everywhere, so you’ll have to go see for yourself if you really want a glimpse of these spectacular interiors.

Flagey Banad

INR Flagey

If you’re familiar with Brussels – and even if you’re not – you may already know this building. Flagey is a cultural venue located in the Ixelles area where you can go for concerts, movies, drinks… Before all of this though, it was the headquarter of the ‘Institut National de Radiodiffusion’ (the national radio institute) of Belgium. During the Interbellum, more precisely between 1935 and 1938, the design of Joseph Diongre was executed. The architecture is a mix of Art Nouveau, Modernism and the School of Amsterdam. If you give it a closer look, you might even find some resemblances with a boat…

The building originally had no less than seventeen studios. They were all designed to have the perfect acoustic, among others making use of ‘silent spaces’ between floors to assure that. Studio 4 was even the biggest radio studio at the time (bigger than the one from the BBC for example) with a surface of 1000 m²! After the introduction of the tv in Belgium, the building sadly became to small and quickly got abandoned. Its history after that is quite rough: it almost got destroyed in the 80’s, got recognised as a national monument in 1994, asbestos was found everywhere in the building and a lot of money was invested to assure the reopening.

Nowadays, luckily, Flagey is buzzing with cultural vibes. And if you’re in for a drink, don’t forget to check out Café Belga. It’s situated on the corner of the building and definitely one of the ‘cult’ cafés in Brussels.

Palais de la Folle Chanson Banad

Palais de la Folle Chanson

Whereas Flagey is more or less accessible all year long, this ‘palace’ isn’t. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones to be living here of course. Palais de la Folle Chanson (or Palace of the Crazy Song) was one of the earlier (1928) housing complexes for the bourgeoisie. After WWI housing prices went up drastically and it became almost impossible to buy a whole house. The Bourgeoisie wanted to own something nonetheless, so a fancy apartment in a nice neighbourhood made for the perfect compromise. Servants had a separate room under the attic, there was a doorman to welcome guests and to separate the incoming mail, a vide-ordure (a central garbage chute)… It was luxurious in a more modern way.

This building is a good example of the Art Deco movement. The lines are quite structured and geometrical, somewhat in contrast to the more ‘organic’ Art Nouveau. The rotunda at the front porch makes you think of the Bozar building, also in Brussels. The architect, Antoine Courtens, tried to not only put an effort towards the ‘big’ architectural structures, but also towards details like the lifts, stairway, mirrors… To make the bourgeois even more at ease, the division of the apartments resembled that of a typical Brussels home. There was a reception area, an intimate part and a domestic one.

As I said, Palais de la Folle Chanson isn’t normally open to the public. You’ll probably have to wait another year to have a look inside, but it’s definitely worth it!

Palais du Congo Banad

Palais du Congo

Although situated just in front of the Palais de la Folle Chanson, Palais du Congo is a little different. The building was designed in 1930 by Jean Florian Collin – later known as the founder of Etrimo. When entering the building, you immediately have a less majestic feeling than with Palais de la Folle Chanson. The stairways are smaller, the ceilings are lower… Nonetheless, I wouldn’t mind living here at all – there’s actually an apartment for rent in the building, so it maybe worth checking out if you’re looking for a place and if you have some money to spend.

In the entry hall there are still some original details to be found. The wooden doors, the letter boxes, the floors, lamps… You’ve entered a little piece of history and that always feels nice. Here visitors had the chance to enter one of the apartments, which was very nicely decorated while still holding onto a lot of original elements. The fish bone floor and the kitchen tiling for example have never been replaced and are still in perfect shape. The current owner decorated it with the help of an interior designer and although it’s fairly modern, it really blends in perfectly. It totally made me want to redecorate my own place anyway.

As with the Palais de la Folle Chanson, you can’t visit this building just like that. You’ll have to wait until another possibility presents itself or till next year’s Banad of course!

Flagey Banad Studio 4

You may have noticed so already, but this first Banad-weekend was totally up my alley. I am quite a curious person so I was pleased by the behind-the-scenes vibe. Combined with the architectural and historical aspect, it made for a perfect Sunday afternoon. Although you might have missed out on the first two visiting days, you may still have the possibility to visit some other buildings during the next two weekends. Check out their site if you want more information and who knows, maybe we’ll cross paths!