Archive for December, 2009


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Bruxelles constitutes a sort of capital city of the new style. The Belgian capital was the city where, at the beginning of the last decade of the XIX Century, the new concept of architecture of the Line, developed by architect such as Victor Horta, Paul Hankar, Gustave Strauven, Armand Van Waesberghe, beyond others; the city where the symbolism in painting began to widespread trough the entire Europe after the works of the artistic society such as Les XX and La Libre Esthetique; the city where the Austrian Workshop Wiener Werkstaette designed and realized maybe the most complete example of Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Work of Art) ever realized.

The central common concept of these realization in Bruxelles has to deal with the concept of Symbol. Compared to other form of meaning, the symbolic is characterized by an inner energy movement and an external complexity. Considering the meaning in literal sense, it stays in a one-to-one relationship with one sign. Even in case of plastic art, dealing with allegoric representations, the relationship between an image and its meaning is based over an accepted iconic vocabulary (as in the baroque glyphs and gryphon style, for example) and thus quite easily recognizable by who share that vocabulary. Allegory is then possible to be translated into other term, into other vocabulary using the meaning’s bridge.

Stoclet Palace nowadays

The case of the symbol is definitively different. The symbolic representation is not based on any vocabulary. The artist’s own creativity and freedom is capable to create relationship between an iconic image and a particular meaning, choosing the iconographic device in a different manner, time by time. The same subject, the same icon could be depicted with different attitude and then charged with different meaning. The meaning – symbolic (iconographic) relationship in Symbolism is not fixed rather than fluid: Symbol is conceived by the artist within a particular moment, within a particular state of the mind, within a special mood.

Stoclet Palace, details

As a consequence, the interpretation of symbolic art is as complex as its creativity act. More, the interpretation of the symbol is a creative moment per se, when the spectator exploiting his own symbolic heritage he achieved during the time, with previous sensitive experiences, with previous artistic experiences, within his cultural, philosophical, religious, social milieu.  The hermeneutic of the symbolist art spectator should be as complex and rich as the creativity engine of the artist himself, as the act to approach and interpret the symbolic work of art follows the proceed of the artistic production, overcharging the work itself by a plethora of other complimentary meaning. The power of symbol is then complete: it continues to suggest new reading, new interpretation, revitalizing the work of art, providing a beyond-the-time living and inspiring concept of art.

Stoclet Palace, façade details

The key work is complexity. From Latin complicatio, ethimologically the word means “put together several different things”. The movement of complexity happens either when composing a specific work of art, as well as when interpreting symbolically that work. And a further level of realization of a complex art is the so called Gesamkunstwerk, the Total Work of Art. There the complexity is not just realized with the combination (again Latin, combinatio) of meanings rather than with the widespread adoption of a particular style trough the entire composite elements of the work. The stimuli of such a pervasive artistic production achieves the goal of unity in complexity, in which the application of the same style is bound with different declinations of it by the symbolic development of its application. In other terms, this sort of Heraclitean approach provides within the style the eon, the Unity and within the symbolic artistic freedom of its application the multiply meanings.

In Stoclet palace, the expressive power of the Line pervade every single element, from the architecture of Josef Hoffmann, the decoration of the façade with its geometric and clean lines, the inner decoration and furniture design due to the works of Hfmann but also Gustav Klimt, Bertold Loeffler, Carl Otto Czecha, Leopold Forstner, Michael Powolny, Franz Metzner, Koloman Moser.


Stoclet Palace, the roof under restoration

Every single detail, from the decorations to the furniture, from the garden to the kitchen tools, were conceived with a unity of style; every single detail represents a stylistic declination of the line, providing an overall synesthetic for the inhabitants of the villa. Everything in the palace is charged with aesthetic value, every single object represents a key to the Garden of Meanings, the structure, its interiors, its decoration constitute a Symbolic and Aesthetic Forest detached from the everyday, human, villain life.

One should be an aesthete to walk through this Forest and being excited by this trip rather than  scared by it; one should have the same cult of Beauty and of Art as a Des Essaintes or a Gabriele D’Annunzio to fully enjoy the unique experience of an aesthetic life within a Total Work of Art; one should have such a feminine attitude towards the Mysteries to use these tools, to look at these decorations as what they are, single small piece of art. Living surrounded by art without such an aesthetic passion could become a nightmare or an annoying task, such as taking care of old fragile objects.

Considering the actual status of the exterior of the Stoclet Palace, such an annoyed attitude could probably suitably describe what the actual property is feeling towards this Masterpiece. Accepting to live there is accepting to live surrounded by living Suggestions. Entering or, worst, living there is not a task for everyone: paraphrasing Plato, shouldn’t dare to enter there who is not an aesthete …



Emile Fabry was Belgian symbolist painter and designer. He studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels under Jean-François Portaels, and worked with the designer Cir Jacques.

He had a special symbolist attitude towards the mysteries of the unconscious and of the obscure Nature forces. As many artists who worked within the milieu of Belgian Symbolism work, even Fabry was heavily influenced by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949),  depicting characters who expresses anguish through its depiction of wild-eyed and deformed figures.

The still and silence pervade the composition, as in case of “le fil de la vie”, weather the eyes of the central figure seems to be able to investigate in-depth the unconscious of the spectator. Marbled and crystallized colors provide the impression of a world where inquietude and mystery are ruling …

In 1892 Fabry took part in the first exhibition of the group ‘Pour l’Art’, which he founded with Jean Delville and of which he depicted the poster, and in 1893 and 1895 exhibited at the Salons de la Rose+Croix, established by the Sar Joséphin Pèladan.

In this period he experimented an aesthetic in which the characters are disposed in front of the spectator, developing over vertical lines, somewhat with an architectural approach, recalling some conposition of pre-raphaelitism:

The palette is also darkening, soft pointillism suggest an intimae light experience, just like the light itself was produced by the character rather than coming from some natural source. Again, the supernatural and intimate unconscious take over the usual expectation about the external natural phenomenon. No forecast is possible in either the intimate world nor in the work of Fabry. In “Vers l’Ideal” there are also present influences from the Austrian Secession (Klimt):

Emile Verhaeren in 1896 wrote about him:

A special artists with a strong willing. He is able to clearly express sadness, force and ingenuous sweet attitude. His characters has large front, large eyes, compact long hairs, placed in a metallic, marbled and silent world: they are like suspended upwards as huge melancholic flowers. He is one of the rare artist who as a special attitude towards life, and who is living in a splendid world apart. A world which sometimes looks as the only who is actually real. And this is his powerful art. We are brought into this individual vision which completely fascinates the spectator.

And eventually these word were inspired by one of the masterpiece of Fabry, “Les gestes”, 1895:

In this painting the curve lines are ruling the development of the shapes. The large eyes and the lounged faces are incredibly expressive, providing a melting pot of different feelings such as sadness (the woman on the very left), melancholy (far right) and a perverted beauty, which is able to dig in-depth the spectator unconscious and inner world (central figures). One can feel these eyes right in his blood without being scared rather being fascinated. These long faces, with an hermetic expressions constitute a incitation to the spectator to know the inner part of himself. Just like a painted symbolic version of the Delphic and Heraclitean motto, a sort of parallel with the Klimtian Nuda Veritas: These eyes in Fabry’s painting are the counterpart of the Nuda Veritas’ glass, both directed toward the spectator own sight (either external and internal) …

Death at 101, the author during his long life continuously remain on his ideal, researching new expressive way to depict the inexpressible trough symbolic form and lines, with metallic colors, with an attitude towards the mystery, trough his love for veiled Isis. He still maintains his role of prophet of symbolism just at the time of non-figurative and too often rizomatic and casual art. Our flag versos any action (aka non-symbolic) art.


The Aesthetic of the swirling lines constitutes a common element either in the development of Art at the turn of the Century as well as of the so-called Psychedelic Art during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Sinuous lines, symbolic elements and character attitudes, enigmatic and ambiguous expressions, are all elements that the artists of the ‘60s heavily inherited from their fin-de-siécle counterparts.

This artistic relationship sometimes happens just at stylistic level, when the psychedelic artists feel themselves free to be inspired in their works by most of the lines, patterns, shapes of the Art Nouveau poetic:

Sometimes, on the contrary, Art Nouveau or Symbolist Art masterpieces are literally brought into psychedelic style poster, overcharging colors accordingly:

The point here is that this psychedelic revisiting of Art Nouveau doesn’t look inappropriate, stylistically incompatible nor aesthetically inacceptable.

In other terms, Art Nouveau style fits perfectly into a psychedelic aesthetic and till the point the turn-of-the-century art can be considered as the very mainstream of inspiration for the psychedelic artists of the ‘60 and ‘70. This is mainly because some of the feelings and attitudes of the artists during these two periods are commonly shared.

Opening the perception to the mysterious forces hidden within the Nature, and let them come into the stream of the artist’s own feelings; discovering the expressive of the Line, of the draw, of colors, being able to mimic the Nature inner forces trough a passionate Art.

For either the Psychedelic travelers at the end of the 60s as well as for the Symbolist at the turn of the century Art constitutes the preferred way to unveil Isis or, at least, to make love with her …


Nouveau doesn’t mean new.

New refers to some point in time: something is new when in relationship with some other event which could be either older than the previous or different, or better. The concept of “New” could be referred as a quality (in relation with another stuff wich is qualitatively superseded) or as a time relative concept.

On the contrary, Nouveau doesn’t relate to the concept of time, it hasn’t nothing to do with quality, nothing to spare with some other relative point in time. Nouveau is a perpetuum mobile, it is an Heraclitean concept. Nouveau relates to the eternal mutating, a continuous re-generation trough the ways of dynamism and Speed. Nouveau doesn’t refer to something which is older or superseded by its quality: Nouveau, finally, means that what is predicated being Nouveau is overcharged by an inner energy, a mysterious and obscure vitalism which is able to continuously change and regenerate the subject.

Something is Nouveau because it never looses its own impacting energy, because it lacks really essence or being, and consists of pure dynamic mutability. Nouveau is living, ‘cause what could be considered living is exactly the contrary of being, a non-being, thus Nouveau is like a continuously transforming inexplicable symbol. And like a symbol Nouveau’s own definition is constantly re-disposing, avoiding any tentative to clarify, continuously escaping every attempt to bound it into the gate of the fixed written word.

Art is Nouveau when it can’t be defined, continuously burning its own definition. Art Nouveau is a Truth which is burning flame: a Truth which is non-truth.

Art Nouveau is a complex passion described by a furious Line.

Art Nouveau artist is then a suffering daemon who is aimed to an art which is incorruptible. And it is not because it is ontologically placed in a sort of eternal suspension, rather because its own burning flame is infinite as the Fire in Ephesos.

And, moreover, Art Nouveau is still here …

The music relies on fascinating melodies which induce an exciting mechanism in the brain of the listeners: actually, the listener is brought within the work of Art and once there he can feel the ecstasy, at the same time so close and so far from the one that inspired the artist. The dancer is drawing lines in the air with sensuous movements of her feminine (what else ? All of us have a very feminine attitude) furor.

The dancers are performing at the turn of the century over a music composed also at the turn of the century, but of exactly the following one: the performance altogether is develops accordingly between music and dance, an accord without any agreement, an accord over a bridge one century long …

Art Nouveau is so dangerous because it doesn’t care about time: Art Nouveau is now, every time.


According to Wikipedia:

Sgraffito ("scratched", plural Scraffiti and often also written Scraffito) is a technique either of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors to a moistened surface, or in ceramics, by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip, and then in either case scratching so as to produce an outline drawing. A combed wall surface is produced by dragging a comblike tool over a prepared surface, producing stripes or waves.

This particular decorative technique applied to the wall buildings, was widespread trough Italy (specially in central regions) during the Renaissance. However this particular technique flourished during the last decade of the XIX Century in France and in Belgium. In this latter Country, several sgraffites were used to decorate several Art Nouveau building, till they could be considered one of the specific characteristic of Belgian Art Nouveau.

Probably, the most famous example of sgraffito in Bruxelles is the famous Maison Cauchie. Build in 1905, the building was the residence house of the architect Paul Cauchie and of her wife, the painter and illustrator Catherine Voet, known as Lina. The house is fully decorated with the sgraffito technique and the overall impression is eye-capturer. The fact is that the house itself, and mainly the decorations, are used as a sort of advertising for the work of the two artists. So combining an outstanding and fascinating catching female decoration:


With a sort of visit card in pure sgraffito style:


Apart the famous Cauchie house the technique of sgraffito is really omnipresent in the production of the Belgian Art Nouveau architecture and façade design.

Sinuous female figures:



Scenes, mostly with gold colored shapes, which gives a very special effect, when illuminated by the sun:


Some of them, are realized using few colors, mainly reds, providing a warm and intimate vintage effect, resembling really the Renaissance’s houses style:


and, finally, the pure geometrical abstract designs, which translate into the technique of the sgraffito, the aesthetic researches performed during the same years by Henry van de Velde and, moreover, by the most representative architect of the Belgian Art Nouveau, Victor Horta:



When I finally was able to spend some time in Riga (one of the must see city for anyone who’s an Art Nouveau addicted) I was informed about the existence of an Jugendstil museum, right in the outstanding zone between Alberta and Elizabetes iela, where are also located the masterpieces of the Latvian architect Mikhail Eisenstein.

At the number 13 of Elizabetes iela is located the museum. The building itself is an apartment house designed in 1904 by Kostantins Peksens, one of the most famous Latvian architect at the turn of the Century.

The building itself, maybe, shouldn’t be considered one of the major work of Peksens. The building is still filled with eclectic elements, with the roof contour heavily influenced by late German renaissance style.

The very interesting part of the building resides in its interior. The apartment on last floor was loaned by the famous symbolist Latvian painter Janis Rozentals (and, eventually, that apartment hosts now the Rozentals museum in Riga) who was friend and often cooperates with Peksens himself. For that reason, most of the internal common areas of the apartment house is fully decorated by Rozentals’ own design. So the main entrance presents four frescos:


And the staircase is filled by abstract symbolist decorative elements, due to Rozentals himself, which represents an outstanding evidence of the excellence reached by the Latvian decorative art at the turn of the Century. The paintings and the stairs were fully restored, and are now in incredible PROOF condition:



The former apartment at the first floor is now hosting the museum itself. again, the walls and roof of the apartment-museum is also fully decorated and restored



The decoration in this case is mostly stylized floral elements with some pure abstract ones. Lines are curved and flexuous, colors delicate and pastels . Again, the restoration was performed at highest professional level. In some part you can still see the original situation prior the restoration process:


Finally the museum. Really it is a reconstruction of the flat original environment. All the furniture was restored or chosen close to the original. The philological work  behind was so accurate that one of the museum assistant told me she regrets one heating convector was lost and they had to chose one which is probably close to the original one but they actually haven’t any evidence. Overall impression entering the museum is really being introduced into a living flat of a middle class turn of the century family:


I was impressed this small lecture corner surrounded by windows, and just like placed by a huge carved wood frame:


Everything is restored, placed and preserved with such an accurate and professional way that, really, visiting the museum enforced my idea that Riga is more than just one of the capital of Jugendstil, Art Nouveau. Latvian are not simply hosting that heritage, they are proud of their own artists and masterpieces of the turn of the Century. This is a way mostly of the other so called capital cities of Art Nouveau trough Europe should achieve, one day, hopefully …



The Moorish styled Synagogue in Rumbach street, Budapest, is often presented as the sole work due in Hungary by the Austrian turn of the Century leading architect Otto Wagner.  Well, strictly sense it is not exactly true, if we consider the plan for a beautiful Pest (Stadtverschönerungsplan für Pest with Hungarian architect Antal Honvery) and the plan for the Budapest Parliament presented in 1883 together with architects Moriz Kallina and Reszö Bernd. Anyway these two latter project never became reality and remained just projects.

On the Austrian Architectur Lexikon there’s also another building in Budapest attributed to Wagner. Accordingly to the site (

um 1900 Miethaus „Industriehof“, Budapest, H, Bajcsi-Zsilinszky utca (mit Moriz Kallina)

Well, honestly I couldn’t find any evidence on the existence of such a building. I tried even on my copy of “Budapest epiteszeti topografia” but I wasn’t able to find any evidence of Otto Wagner’s works in Bajcsi-Zsilinszky utca.

Anyway, regardless of that phantom building (if someone has further information, please keep in touch and share 🙂 ), the Synagogue in Rumbach utca (which actually really exists) is very interesting piece in the history of art.

Well, maybe it is not so outstanding per se: but it actually is considering it was one of the first important project executed by Otto Wagner (1868).

Surrounded by relatively small buildings, in a very strict street, the Moorish overall style of the façade (anyway without any baroque excess nor eclectic taste), the light red/yellow colors, the tall towers, constitute all contrasting elements.


While the façade is in an overall good shape and status, entering the Synagogue is a more painful experience. Just passed the entrance door, this is what we could see (really, no comment):


The entrance to the main lodge:


Looking upside, to the roof, quite impressive is the hexagonal cupola:


Again, colors are outstanding and the abstract floral decoration look like an anticipation of later development of Austrian Secession. Even more abstract form, which look like Wiener Werkstaette wallpaper (of course, ante litteram) fully decorate the interior walls of the Synagogue:


Once again, the wall, including decorations, is seriously damaged in some parts:


Light trough the Synagogue is filtered by some large decorated window: the overall luminosity is really good, considering the lack of other light sources other than the outside, and considering how much is strict Rumbach utca:



The pavement is completely gone: some marbles are collected in the angle of the Hexagonal structure:


The poor condition of the Synagogue is something which touch the hearth of art lover. We understand that actually the building is under reconstruction, and it is ok. Glad to hear this ? Well, there is a problem, actually. I paid visit to this Synagogue as late as  summer 2007 and I took some pictures with an old Casio camera. Well, fortunately something is going better: at least, the box with the script “made in USSR (in Russian !) is finally disappeared:

Anyway is really frightening the fact that the stair is still there, and in about the same position !


Honestly, we are confident that the restoration will happen, one day. We rely on it, to finally being able to fully admire the early work of a future genius of modern architecture.