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Belgium • 1861−1947
Victor Horta (Victor Pierre Horta, January 6, 1861, Ghent, Belgium - September 8, 1947, Brussels, Belgium) - Belgian architect, one of the pioneers of the Art Nouveau style in architecture. Horta designed several iconic structures in this style in Brussels. Four of them are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Features of the style of architect Victor Orth: his earliest works were in the Art Nouveau style - with flowery floral motifs, mosaics and stained glass windows. After the First World War, Horta's style changed, became more restrained and geometric.

Outstanding works by Victor Orth: Tassel Mansion, Solve Mansion, House van Etvelde, Museum of Horta.

In the biographies of so many creative personalities - artists, writers, musicians - you can read that in their youth they were not too disciplined and zealous. In the case of Victor Horta, biographers went even further, without embarrassment, describing him as a "lazy and dumb" teenager. Contemporaries could hardly have imagined that a young man who did not show any hope would one day become one of the most outstanding architects in Europe.


Victor Horta was born in Ghent in a large family. His father Pierre made shoes of the highest class and, according to Victor's recollections, possessed such a level of skill and was so in love with his work that he considered it a form of art. Victor only disappointed the parent with his slovenliness, so that in punishment sent the boy to work on a construction site to his uncle. At that time, the only thing that aroused his interest was playing the violin (he did not even study for a long time at the Ghent Conservatory, but was expelled for his bad behavior), but his first acquaintance with architecture changed everything. Horta recalled that then insight descended upon him, and he saw before himself the rest of his life.

From that moment, Victor Orth's life has completely changed. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, and at the age of 17 he went to Paris, where he began to work in the workshop of the architect and interior decorator Jules Dubyuisson. In 1880, Victor had to return to his homeland after his father died. Horta settled in Brussels, got married and entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. There was no trace of former laziness and negligence: Victor not only excelled in his studies, but even received a prestigious architectural award. Around the same time, his teacher and court architect of King Leopold II, Alfons Bala, offered Victor his place as an assistant. Horta was delighted: he admired the work of Bal and dreamed of working with him, besides, with such a patron, the young architect had great prospects. The opportunity to show himself was presented to Victor almost immediately: he began to help Alphonse Ball in the design and construction of the royal greenhouses.


As expected, the mentorship of Alfons Ball served Victor Orth well. By 1885, he became a member of the Central Society of Belgian Architecture, opened his own independent practice, and built three houses in his native Ghent. In 1889, Horta received an order for construction pavilion, in which it was planned to place a sculpture-relief of Jeff Lambo. Large-scale work measuring 12 by 8 meters under the name “Passion of the Human” required special framing, so Horta designed a neoclassical pavilion for her in the form of an ancient Greek temple. This building exists to this day, but it was opened to visitors only a few years ago.

While Horta’s career went uphill, in his personal life, things did not work out too well. The first daughter of Victor and his wife Pauline died at the age of only a few months of age. In 1890, their second daughter Sophie was born, to whom Horta was very attached and received custody of her during her divorce from Pauline.

Gradually, Horta acquired useful connections. In 1888, he joined the Freemasonry Freemason’s Masonic Lodge of Belgium, where he met several future customers, and a few years later became a professor of architecture at the University of Brussels.


Victor Orth's expectations of joining the Masonic lodge were realized: he soon began to receive orders from other members of the community and built one of his most famous buildings. In 1893, Horta built residential buildings for Eugene Otric and Emil Tassel. The architect later recalled that when designing these two buildings, his goal was “Create a personal style in which constructive, architectural and social rationalism could be found”.Tassel House often called the very first building built in the style of Art Nouveau. It was here that Horta began to work on the structure of the metal, melting it and twisting it into smooth forms resembling shoots and curls of grapes. Similar forms were used in the decoration of mosaic floors, bends of chandeliers and balustrades, and in the forms of stair railings. Horta said that he intentionally took not the shape of a flower, but the shape of the stem as the basis for the decorative elements.

Through Emil Tassel, the architect met the chemist and wealthy industrialist Ernest Solve. His son Arman invited Victor to design a luxurious house in Brussels, almost giving him carte blanche. Horta thought through every detail in this building, down to door handles and bells, using onyx, marble, bronze and exotic woods, and involved the artist Theo van Risselberg to work on the design of the front staircase. Construction and decorationSolve Mansion took almost four years. The house was completed in 1898, and after that began the most "stellar" period in the career of Victor Orth.

In 1895, the leaders of the Belgian Workers Party asked the architect to build a new headquarters for them. And although Horta preferred to stay away from politics, this time he agreed, because he lectured on art for party members and was friends with its leaders. Huge multifunctional People's house, built of iron, glass and brick, united under one roof party offices, shops, cafes, places for recreation, a library and an auditorium. Unfortunately, this building did not survive: after the Second World War, the Workers' Party merged with other organizations and freed the People’s House. And in 1965, despite mass protests, the building was demolished, and a skyscraper was built in its place. Some critics call this event the “greatest architectural crime” of the twentieth century.

Thanks to the surge in success, Victor Horta acquired several land plots in the Brussels-based Saint-Gilles region and built his own house and studio here, where he again designed everything to the smallest detail. Now this building, thanks to the efforts of his student Jean Dellier, is open to visitors as Museum of Horta. In addition, the architect’s house, Tassel’s mansion, Solve’s mansion and van Ötvelde’s house are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


With the beginning of the new century, Victor Orth's career continued to go uphill. He built several more residential buildings in Brussels and began to receive orders outside of Belgium. One of his landmark works of this period was the building of the Wauqcuez department store in Brussels, which now houses Belgian comic center. Horta's works also became one of the main attractions at the first international exhibition of modern decorative art in Turin in 1902.

Four years later, Horta received another large and important order - for the construction of a large complex of structures for the Brugman University Hospital in Laken. Buildings of red and white bricks, located on an area of almost 18 hectares, differed from the architect's early works. Horta moved from splendor and pretentiousness of curved lines to more restrained and rational forms. Construction on such a large-scale project began only in 1911, but was interrupted due to the outbreak of the First World War. As a result, the complex was completed only in 1923, and to this day the hospital is located in it.

In 1915, Horta went to London to participate in a city-planning conference on the reconstruction of Belgium, which was devastated by the war. The architect was no longer able to return to his homeland, so from the UK he went to the USA. Here, Horta remained until the end of the war, giving lectures at various educational institutions, including Harvard, Yale and MIT. In the United States, Horta first saw a skyscraper and realized that the time of modernity in architecture was running out, and decided after the war to build buildings in accordance with new trends.


After the war, Horta found himself in a difficult situation. Returning to Belgium in 1919, he sold his house and workshop, but soon the architect received a new prestigious order: he was commissioned to designPalace of Fine Arts in Brussels. The construction of the huge building took almost ten years: Horta created a multifunctional cultural center with a concert hall, a large exhibition space, a chamber of chamber music, a cinema and lecture halls. The architect turned to a new aesthetics - geometrized, straightforward, classicized - demonstrating the ability and willingness to transform his own style.

In the last years of his life, Victor Horta took on very few orders, not counting the constant work on the construction Brussels train station. However, despite this, the architect did not remain in oblivion. In 1919-1920 he was awarded the two highest degrees of distinction awarded by the Belgian state - Horta was promoted to the Order of the Crown and the Order of Leopold. A few years later he was declared a member of the French Legion of Honor, and in 1932, the Belgian king Albert I awarded him the title of baron.

In 1939, Victor Horta began working on his memoirs, which were published almost 40 years after his death. During World War II, he burned most of his documents and drawings, regretting that he had never attempted to publish his work. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Horta was forgotten for a long time after his death in 1947. The construction of the unfinished Brussels station was completed only five years later under the supervision of a student of the architect Maxine Brunfo, who strictly followed Orth's plans.

Author: Evgenia Sidelnikova
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