Art Nouveau like any new movement was a reaction to the style of the times. In the early 20th century, the Beaux-Arts school was the style. It proclaimed that only through imitation of historical style could beauty be achieved in art and architecture. Artists such as Horta, Galle, Mucha and Klimt began to question this and search for new inspiration. Art Nouveau was born out of this search for something new. Nature is a major theme in this new art as was the female form.
Art Nouveau was widely criticized and dismissed as excessive and too extreme but it slowly caught on among the young and wealthy as new movements generally do. It was decadent and it was unlike anything that had been done before. Art Nouveau is the name commonly used to describe the movement that almost wasn't but it was also called the Vienna Secession (in Austria and Belgium particularly) because of the artist's break with the established school.
Okay enough about the style, lets talk about Victor Horta. Victor Horta was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1861. He studied drawing, textiles, and architecture at the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Ghent, then went to Paris to work. Horta began his work as a drafter and then established himself as an architect with a distinct classical style. Many of his early buildings have definite Roman characteristics. I found this quote on Great Buildings Online and thought it summed Horta up rather nicely, "He conceived modern architecture as an abstract principle derived from relations to the environment, rather than on the imitation of forms. Although the organic forms of Art Nouveau architecture as established by Horta do not meet our standard ideas of modern architecture, Horta generated ideas which became predecessors to the ideas of many modernist." While I think that his work can still be relevant today if used properly, I think they make an interesting point about his impact on the Modern Movement.
Horta was what I'd call the quintessential bohemian artist. He was not only involved with the revolutionary new art form, but he was also a supporter of the socialist movement. He actually contributed much to the movement, including the Maison du Peuple in Brussels which was his vision of bring art to the people and lightening the harsh realities of life among the lower classes. See below for a picture and description. The Maison aside, most of his work was done for wealthy friends and colleagues of which he had many. Excellent examples of his work during his heyday can be found at Tassel House and his own home which is now a museum dedicated to preserving his work.
In his later years, Horta became disillusioned and bitter after the death of his child and he inexplicably returned to his classical roots.
This is the grand staircase in the Hotel van Eetveld. Horta was famous for his work with light. He built structures so that light would filter in through the center and diffuse light throughtout, creating a haven in the middle of the city.
A close up of a bannister. Horta was all about the details.
The exterior of Hallet House. It's interesting that his facades are rather austere but look closer at the windows.
The dining room of Horta House.
The Maison du Peuple. Commissioned by the Socialist Party in Brussels, the Maison was meant to be a meeting place for the lower classes to study art. It was one of Horta's grandest scale projects.
I posted more pictures in a comment on the last post and didn't want to repeat them.
And that's a little about Victor Horta. I tried to keep this as non-academic as possible so that you didn't all die of boredom. I'd love to hear what everyone thinks of Horta and the style. If you'd like to know more, do a google search for him and you'll find a ton of websites. His former assistant also wrote a book that I found very interesting especially because its full of photos.