On the occasion of RANN’s 20th anniversary, urban.brussels, a founding member of RANN, hosted an international symposium in Brussels on 29 & 30 November, co-organised with RANN, in partnership with the Horta Museum and the CIVA, and dedicated to the theme “The interiors of the Art Nouveau period interiors: analyse, restore, make accessible”.

The research and progress of our knowledge of Art Nouveau has always been one of RANN’s primary objectives. If Art Nouveau is accessible to everyone in the street itself and while the Art Nouveau facades are the ornament of many European cities, the interiors arouse both from the academic world as from the general public many questions related to their accessibility, to their knowledge, to the refined restorations that they require.

This subject of interiors had not yet been scientifically exploited in a transversal manner in Europe; the aim of this colloquium was to provoke a confrontation on research practices, understanding, conservation and enhancement of Art Nouveau interiors, in order to identify new research perspectives.

The programme of the symposium was structured around 17 speakers from all Europe presenting Art Nouveau interiors from Ålesund (Norway), Barcelona (Spain), Brussels (Belgium), Krakow (Poland), Istanbul (Turkey), La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland), Moscow (Russia), Nancy (France), Terrassa (Spain) and Zagreb (Croatia).

Videos of the various interventions are available on our YouTube channel.

Digital version of the symposium proceedings


Françoise Aubry

Art Historian, Former Curator of the Horta Museum
Quelques réflexions sur la restauration des intérieurs anciens

The theme I have chosen for my introductory lecture at the Réseau Art Nouveau Network’s 20th anniversary symposium is private residences, for these, in my view, were the basis for the development of Art Nouveau during the late 19th century. Building and furnishing a home was about much more than simply sheltering one’s family under a roof while conforming to a layer of society defined in terms of income. Such materialistic criteria came to be inadequate. Instead, as Mario Praz put it: “The surroundings become the museum of the soul, an archive of its experiences.”

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Mario Baeck

Post-doctoral researcher in Art History
Tiled interiors on paper. Trade catalogues as a key source to understand the use of Art Nouveau tiles in Belgian interiors

The enormous popularity of the decorated industrial wall and floor tile in Belgium is strongly linked to the Art Nouveau style that was put on the map by such prominent men as Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy or Privat Livemont who all experimented with ceramic tile material. But it was in the work of younger and lesser known Belgian architects that the art nouveau tile really came to maturity.
From 1896 onwards Belgian Art Nouveau architecture is for an important part characterized by the abundance of colourful tile panels in façades, loggias and porticos and thus very visible for the general public. However, Art Nouveau floor and wall tiles were also less visible used in the interiors of public buildings, cafés, shops and in the intimacy of the bourgeois house, and particularly in entrance halls, sitting rooms and winter gardens that were often – surprisingly – very sumptuously decorated.

More than the study of still existing tile schemes in interiors – only a fraction of what once was executed -, the study of trade catalogs leads to a better understanding of the general use of the tile in the Art Nouveau interior. Tile catalogues give us a deeper insight in the great variety in use of that material, inform us about the factories that were producing these luxury building products, help us to date the designs more precisely in cases where a exact building year or date of refurbishing is not known, and more general they offer invaluable information on the technical and aesthetic evolution of tiles. Trade catalogs are thus of great importance for a deeper knowledge about the changes in taste in interior architecture. The catalogs are also a valuable source for understanding international differences or international influences in matters of style and the huge and worldwide export success of the Belgian Art Nouveau tile. Moreover, many Belgian Art Nouveau tile designs were copied, notably in Spain, Portugal and even Japan.

As a practical example of how the study of tile catalogues can help to make the right choices in a restauration process of a partly lost interior, Victor Horta's Brussels home and studio is discussed. The house was renovated three times in the period from construction to 1911. In preparation for the restoration of the basement kitchen, the identification and dating of the wall and floor tiles was needed to map as precisely as possible the various periods of refurbishment.


Apolline Malevez

Phd student
A case for tresholds: Redifining interior spaces in Art Nouveau architecture and painting

This article focuses on thresholds (understood in the broadest sense: doors, windows, stairs, etc.) as indicative of a change in the design and perception of space in home interiors and their painted representations. In the Art Nouveau era, architects experimented with the transitions between different rooms in the house: glass walls and curtains replaced doors, while the staircase freed itself from the partitioning of its hall. Many painters, for their part, depict interiors by highlighting the articulation of different spaces through the representation of thresholds. These architectural and artistic researches testify to a particular sensitivity at the end of the century regarding the search for fluidity and the progressive erasing of spatial demarcations in interiors.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Inessa Koutenikova

Independent art and architecture historian and photographic researcher
A style without a destination: Fyodor Schechtel's Art Nouveau interiors in photography

At the turn of the 20th century, Moscow’s art institutions played an important role in the training of craftsmen and artists by fostering their ability to integrate Russian and European trends. Inevitably, as a link was established between art, industry and commerce, the general orientation moved away from rural or popular principles. The revival of the latter is largely left in the hands of artists and architects such as Ivan Fomine and Fiodor Schechtel. However, the work of Otto Wagner and the Viennese Secession greatly influenced the spread and modernisation of Art Nouveau in Russia, adding an alternative dimension to it. It is both anti-rational, an expression of the most extravagant dreams, and functionalist, a material form given to socialist aspirations and technological advances.

Moscow 1900 owes its strength and vitality to its diversity, complexity, ambiguity and pan-European manifestations. The struggle of the forms it represents is also a struggle of worldviews; nationalism is confronted with universalism, science with art, and European beliefs with orthodox thought. Photography’s mission remains much simpler, as it succeeds in the delicate exercise of describing, translating and analysing a highly appreciated style.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Élodie Scheydecker

Master's degree in Art History
La maison Paul Luc à Nancy. Documenter un exemple disparu de l'Art nouveau

The subject of this article — and of my master’s thesis — is a lost but well documented example of École de Nancy architecture. The Maison Paul Luc, one of the largest villas in Nancy, was built by two architects, scarcely studied until now, Henri Gutton and Joseph Hornecker, for a wealthy manufacturer. The construction gathered great Art Nouveau artists and craftsmen: Louis Majorelle, Émile Gallé, Jacques Gruber and Edgar Brandt. Unfortunately demolished in 1968, many elements of the house were preserved by the École de Nancy museum (handrails, fireplace, stained-glass windows, built-in furniture, etc.).

In 2015, the donation of a documentary collection by the owners’ heirs, comprising plans, drawings, quotes and bills from Majorelle, allowed us to better understand the different stages of the architectural project and interior design, to replace the surviving elements in their original context, and to gain new insight into the activities of the Majorelle company, whose records burned in 1916.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Edyta Barucka

Independent scholar
Solar Symbolism in Stanisław Wyspiański's Design for the Interiors of the House of the Medical Society in Cracow

Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907) is one of the most versatile Polish artists of the turn of the 20th century. He made a lasting contribution to both the decorative arts and literature. Having studied art in Krakow and Paris, he joined the Vienna Secession in 1897.

One of his most fascinating creations is the interior decoration of the House of the Medical Society in Krakow (1904), which is also a rare Polish example of a total work of art (“Gesamtkunstwerk” in German). Placed under the patronage of Nicholas Copernicus, it refers to the heliocentric system and celebrates the healing power of the sun. The centrepiece of this creation is the stained glass window depicting Apollo attached to his lyre in a position evocative of the iconography of the Crucifixion. The article highlights the symbolic references of the creation of Wyspiański in connection with his literary work.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Mireia Freixa

Emeritus Professor in the Department of Art History & Director of GRACMON
Le Design Muncunill ou comment un système de compréhension des intérieurs domestiques peut devenir modèle d'identification d'une ville

Lluís Muncunill i Parellada (1868–1931) settled in the city of Terrassa, where he achieved a wide range of production: factories, warehouses, domestic architecture and, to a lesser degree, public work. He developed a very characteristic twist on prevalent Art Nouveau taste, with the use of parabolic shapes, lowered arches and curved profiles in doors and windows in harmony with the sinuous roofs of his buildings.

In this essay we propose to go further and analyse how the large team of industrialists and artisans who collaborated with him ended up disseminating these stylistic traits — traits that would become an identifying language of the city and can be qualified as Urban Cultural Landscape. This paper aims to recover these heritage elements in order to guarantee their preservation.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Thomas Moser

PhD Student in Art History
"Le style pieuvre” Art Nouveau interiors and Marine Biology

In the 19th century, the octopus became an omnipresent symbol of the unknown and unfathomable depths of the sea. The fear of the unknown is manifested by its transformation into a monstrous creature in the works by Victor Hugo, Jules Verne and other novelists. This article argues that, parallel to this narrative, a different interpretation of the octopus, unnoticed until now, emerges. In the case of Art Nouveau interiors and objects, the cephalopod constantly embodies the sense of touch, long neglected in art theory. Nineteenth-century physiology and marine biology explain this reading. When dense clusters of nerve endings were discovered in the animal’s tentacles, the octopus became a hyperbolic haptic entity. From then on, the spectacular relief representations of the animal on tangible objects such as vases, plates, small bronzes, stamps and cane handles precisely reflect this scientifically founded association with the sense of touch.

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Charlotte Ashby

Programme Director and Associate Lecturer, Department of History of Art
A Crucible for the New Man and Woman: A Phenomenology of the Art Nouveau Interior

Art nouveau interiors can be seen as a sequence in the long history of creating spectacular and innovative interiors, designed to impress visitors and symbolise the taste, wealth and cultural capital of their owners. Art nouveau interiors have also been approached as a highlight of modern design, which emphasises the use of new materials and new technologies as well as new principles, such as the frankness of construction, the emphasis on craftsmanship and the concept of the total work of art. Without wishing to dismiss any of these elements of interpretation, this contribution focuses on an attribute of Art Nouveau interiors that is quite specific – although not entirely unique to these interiors and their cultural context. Many Art Nouveau interiors have been conceived by artists and patrons as manifestations of a new and modern form of consciousness. More than that, as tools for realizing or contributing to this modern consciousness. These interiors were spaces designed to appeal to individuals who had just become aware of the functioning of their minds and bodies. They were designed to restore and protect psyches, perceived as shaken and broken by the pressures of modern life. Finally, they were designed to facilitate the search for a new unity between body, mind and soul, or even a transcendence at a higher level of being.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Camille André

Heritage Architect
La Villa Majorelle à Nancy, comment restaurer un intérieur Art nouveau ?

The works to restore the villa’s interiors are part of a larger project to return this building to its former glory as an artist’s house by recreating the interior décor and reinstating the original furniture, as a testament to the works of Louis Majorelle and the École de Nancy Art Nouveau movement. The present operation follows the previous phase of works, in 2017, which saw the fireplaces by Alexandre Bigot reinstated, the roofing slates repaired, and the façades cleaned. This cultural and scientific interior works project is not merely about preserving the interiors and collections: it also showcases a private space with the aim of revealing how people used to live through the domestic art, furniture and décor of the time, alongside the permanent exhibition of the Musée de l’École de Nancy.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Wivine Wailliez & Emmanuelle Job

In search of Horta: on-site examinations of the decorative finishes and results

Advocacy for preliminary in situ studies, this article demonstrates how the finishing exams of the second of the built heritage are an indispensable tool to “know, understand and restore” interiors Art nouveau. The material examination is a unique means to characterise the work and its finishes, and to understand it execution and history, or even to formulate choices in order to its restoration.


Zorica Tomanovic

Restoring and repairing the staircase in Jugendstilsenteret in Ålesund

An enlightened cultural heritage policy aims to present this heritage as a unique source of knowledge about societies of the past and as a medium for new experiences and uses. The National Centre and Museum of Art Nouveau in Ålesund, housed in a listed Art Nouveau building, is an example of an outstanding contribution to this policy. With the aim of exhibiting and presenting our heritage to the public as a unique source of knowledge, we have reached a record number of 40,000 visitors in 2018. As adapting it to modern conditions of use is a complex challenge, the reuse and conservation of cultural heritage requires considerable commitment, resources and knowledge. The article presents some restoration projects that have sought to repair the staircase using different methods and techniques. It presents not only the study and restoration of the original colours and materials, but also the various challenges related to the structural stability of the staircase as a fundamental prerequisite for future use and experience. An empirical method was used for the research of this case study, while the indicators of the staircase’s stability were determined by physical analysis and with the help of observation and measurement methods. Previous research and restoration work was presented using a descriptive method and by collecting data from the archives of the Jugendstilsenteret.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

Luc Reuse

À chaque époque, sa technique

What are the criteria that determine the quality of a restoration? Seasoned metalworker Luc Reuse considers this question through a discussion of several of the most prestigious restorations he has worked on in Brussels. In particular, he introduces us to the unseen side of his restoration work, which includes searching archives, identifying and studying the production techniques and materials used, and applying a healthy dose of creativity so that, when necessary, he is able to build the right tools and hardware for the job — all in the name of consistency. While seeking to constantly balance the past and the future, artisans are called to find solutions that comply with modern safety standards while being suitable from a technical point of view, sympathetic to local aesthetics, and respectful towards the ethics of the original architect.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube

François-Xavier Richard

La papier peint à planche, langage des muts

Wallpaper does not always deliver a good first impression. We dislike its obsessive repetition and only later discover its subtleties. Block-printed wallpaper embodies the excellence of a free act that consists of decorating our walls, nothing more. Despite being a positive billboard for interior design, wallpaper has been gagged by the industry and reduced to its simplest expression, to a basic idiom (pattern/colour), when it could be the greatest way of letting our imaginations run wild. Inspired by the multiple methods of enriching and transforming paper seen in the vestiges found on a few forgotten walls, the Atelier d’Offard creates and reconstruct  block-printed wallpapers using the artistic techniques handed down by engravers and papermakers. And while this traditional know-how has re-emerged thanks to new technology, the craft itself has the last word.Ever since wallpaper was created, major architectural movements have continued to embrace it. Art Nouveau is one of the best examples of this use of paper for interior décor.

Dragan Damjanovic

Professor in Art History Department Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Furnishing the Temple of Croatian History and Science. Art Nouveau Interiors of the Croatian National and University Library and the State Archives Building

This text details the iconographic programme of the most important Art Nouveau building in the country: the University Library and National Archives of Croatia. In particular, it shows how the selection of the artists, craftsmen and companies that worked there is linked to the peculiarity of the Croatian political situation within the Austro-Hungarian kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Monserrat Puges i Dorca & Kusi Colonna-Preti

Responsible for conservation and restoration / Conservator-Restorer, Art Historian, Sole Associate
"La mosaïque de mon quartier". Conservation des pavements d'intérieurs à Barcelone : des outils simples pour impliquer le citoyen

My Neighbourhood’s Mosaic is a participatory, preventive, urban conservation project aimed at discovering, highlighting and conserving the mosaics in the city of Barcelona. Thanks to citizen cooperation, a “participatory inventory” of photos of mosaics has been created. Nearly half these works are Modernist in style. We have discovered private interiors that afford us a more complete overview of Barcelona’s mosaic history. Aware of the rich mosaic heritage in the city, both public and private, we realised we had to commit and involve the citizens in ensuring its conservation. The project includes “conservation tips” targeted at the general public and presented in the form of simple interventions protocols. The idea is that anyone keen to conserve their mosaic, but who has no experience in the matter, can make an initial diagnosis and carry out occasional interventions, mainly for maintenance purposes.

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Marikit Taylor

Independent Historian and Heritage enhancement Officer
Le Salon bleu : une œuvre d’art totale au cœur du patrimoine horloger

In 2016, the City of La Chaux-de-Fonds bought the Salon bleu, a total work of art decorated in the local “Pine Tree Style”. This music room, designed in 1907 for an influential watchmaking factory owner, is held up as one of the town’s most emblematic and well-preserved Art Nouveau interiors. Its opening to the public is part of a large-scale plan to promote La Chaux-de-Fonds’ Art Nouveau, eclectic and industrial “secret heritage”. Research, conservation and historical accuracy are of the essence, but making this Art Nouveau interior accessible to the public is also an opportunity to find new and creative ways to introduce visitors to a rich but relatively unknown current of Art Nouveau. The Salon bleu’s adjacent workshop provides a gateway into the town’s watchmaking town planning and into the story of the industry which led to the creation of a unique artistic style, wholly inspired by the forests and pastures of the Jura Mountains.

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Deniz Balik Lokce

Associate Professor
Art Nouveau apartments in Istanbul

Spread by foreign architects, Art Nouveau influenced the westernisation period of the Ottoman Empire in relation to socio-cultural, technological, political and economic developments. The increasing diversity of the population in the Galata and Pera districts led to the construction of new buildings in the area around the avenue İstiklal, formerly known as the Great Street of Pera. This study aims to raise awareness of this under-theorised issue within the multi-layered fabric of Istanbul. It shows that inaccessibility, inadequate restoration and abusive reuse are detrimental to the spatial atmosphere of Art Nouveau interiors.

Watch the video of the speaker’s contribution on YouTube