"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Saturday, 11 January 2014

4. Brussels, Belgium: Cauchie House

From 1890-1910, the Art Nouveau style swept across Europe and other parts of the world from America to Argentina. It drew its inspiration from nature and embodied curving, sinewy, elongated forms -- especially those of flowers, vines, and women with long-flowing hair.

Art Nouveau was considered a "total art" which means that it embraced all forms of artistic expression: architecture, fine and graphic arts, sculpture, vases, lighting, furniture, jewellery, fabrics, ceramics and just about anything else you can think of.

Just exactly where Art Nouveau was born is a matter of some conjecture and considerable argument. The French say it was in their homeland. The Belgians say it was in their homeland. And the Catalans, who haven't even had a homeland since 1716 (but are doing their best to create one today) claim the work of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona as the starting point.

Personally, I'm not going to take sides. Although as someone who lives in the Spanish region immediately south of Catalonia, I'm only too eager to declare that my all-time favourite Art Nouveau building is Gaudi's Casa Battlo.

Gaudi was just one of the stars in an Art Nouveau firmament that included Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Hector Guimard, Victor Horta, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret and Mary McDonald, and Emile Galle. Today  I want to shine a light on a a lesser-known star, Paul Cauchie.

Cauchie and Lina Voet met, married and built a house in Brussels in 1906. He was an architect, decorative painter and interior decorator. She was a painter and teacher. He designed and built the outside of the house. She co-designed the interior. The house was no ordinary home-workshop:

Let's look at Maison Cauchie floor by floor:

The top floor reflects many classic Art Nouveau themes and motifs. The women are the eight muses of art. The flowers are roses. The windows are round. The only deviation from form is the silver jagged balcony railing. A true visionary, Cauchie anticipated Art Deco by two decades!

The second-floor exterior features a more modern, liberated-looking woman holding up a sign that says "Pour Nous, Par Nous" which means "For us, By Us".

Given that the suffragette movement was very strong at the time, and what looks like paper is in the woman's hands, I thought that the image might symbolize a woman's right to vote. But the truth is far more prosaic. Cauchie and Voet envisioned the house exterior as a giant billboard advertising the artistic services that they provided. This becomes more clear in the sign on the ground floor promoting their commercial services: paintings, decorations, embroidery, furniture and chandeliers:

Normally I'm quite opposed to commercial advertising in a residential area. But if the front of the house is just one giant marketing poster, then I wouldn't mind having a few of these in my neighbourhood!

The actual technique used in creating the artwork is called Sgraffito. It involves applying several layers of plaster, tinted in contrasting colours, to a moistened surface. The plaster is then cut according to a pattern to reveal the desired colours.

The Cauchie House WOW factor can be seen both outside and inside the house. The interior features a beautiful Sgraffito mural portraying the five senses:





Amazingly, despite having created one of the shiniest gems in the Art Nouveau world, Paul Cauchie decided that he was more of an interior decorator than an architect, and is only known to have built three more houses. He did, however, create 600 Sgraffito instalments across Brussels.