© Koen Broos

The story of the Ursuline Institute begins in 1841, when a group of sisters came to Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Waver (Antwerp region in Belgium) to start a primary school for the village girls. This initiative was financed by founding a boarding school, which soon attracted a wealthy international clientele. Based on the educational principles of “l’art à l’école”, the Ursuline sisters created vast and unique school buildings where art and aesthetics are omnipresent. In addition they used the latest techniques and the most exquisite architectural and decorative innovations. Various styles such as neo-Gothic, neo-classical, neo-empire, art nouveau and art deco alternate harmoniously throughout the buildings.

The architectural highlight of this complex is the art nouveau Winter Garden. It was built in 1900 as a comfortable reception room and meeting place for the pupils, their parents and other visitors. The Winter Garden’s art nouveau character is created by its colourful interior barrel vault, featuring decorative stained glass with symbolic representations of Morning, Evening and Day. The space’s floral decoration is intensified further with exotic-looking plants.

The Winter Garden is unique. Not just for its architectural quality but because of its rural location and the fact that it was created in a Catholic school setting, rather than within the typical Art Nouveau context of the urban, liberal, free-thinking bourgeoisie. It is the most distinctive example in the Flemish Region of this pioneering fin-de-siècle craftsmanship.

Thanks to the many volunteers the Ursuline Institute and its Winter Garden are open to the public. Currently only guided group tours are offered. These last two hours and are available in different languages. In the coming years, under the impetus of the non-profit organisation Kempens Landschap, the site will be further developed into a permanently opened tourist attraction for individual visitors. You can find all information on