Inside Sculptors' Studios in Belle éPoque Brussels: An Interior Architectural View

By van Santvoort, Linda; Sterckx, Marjan | The Sculpture Journal, May 1, 2020 | Go to article overview

Inside Sculptors' Studios in Belle éPoque Brussels: An Interior Architectural View


van Santvoort, Linda, Sterckx, Marjan, The Sculpture Journal


Subject and scope

Recent international exhibitions and publications devoted to artists' studios have largely focused on the representation and meaning of the studio and, with reference to the accoutrements and any models that might be present, on artistic practice and the artist's image.1 Instead this article looks in detail at new, purpose-built sculptors' studios constructed during the belle époque from an architectural and interior-design perspective.2 It considers how sculptors' studios differ architecturally and typologically from painters' studios and how these spaces express contemporary ideas about sculptural practice. Naturally, many sculptors could not afford a purpose-built studio. Indeed it was common for two artists, such as Jef Lambeaux (1852-1908) and Jules Lagae (1862-1931) (fig. 1), to work in a shared space (usually adapted from some other use), as this reduced costs.3 Yet a surprisingly large number of sculptors in Brussels, especially during the belle époque, did commission a studio and often also a dwelling, though in some cases this only happened late in life. For example, in 1899 Constantin Meunier (1831-1905) had a house with a separate studio built for himself on rue de l'Abbaye in the Ixelles suburb (architect Ernest Delune).4

Sculptors' studios have received considerably less attention in the literature than painters' studios even though they are every bit as interesting and revealing.5 The business of drawing up an affordable specification presented both the architect and the sculptor client with a substantial challenge, precisely because of the greater 'nuisance' associated with the discipline (fig. 2). This is not to say that sculpture was unique in this regard. The Parisian artist Rosa Bonheur (1822-99), for instance, incorporated a stable in her workshop6 and the Belgian painter Eugene Verboeckhoven (1798-1881) supposedly worked from life with wild animals in his large, purpose-built studio in Schaerbeek (Brussels). One visitor to Verboeckhoven's home recalled seeing 'a living Ardennes wolf'.7 It is not the challenges of art practice that are the object of this study, but rather the way that the specific character of the sculptor's profession was given expression by the architectural design of purpose-built sculptors' studios.

The study is centred on the area designated as the Brussels Capital Region, which comprises both the historical centre (known as Le Pentagone) and the suburbs (a district that was especially popular with sculptors in the nineteenth century).8 As the capital of a young, liberal nation that achieved independence in 1830, the city was a magnet to artists from Belgium and abroad.9 Brussels enjoyed a reputation as a 'paradise for painters',10 but a growing number of commissions for statues and ornamental sculpture for public and private buildings and spaces also created opportunities for sculptors, including foreigners. Among those drawn to the city were AlbertErnest Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste Rodin, after the Franco-Prussian war.11 The city's reputation rose further during the belle époque, and it was home to a wide range of art magazines and societies such as Les XX, its successor La Libre Esthétique, Pour l'Art and Le Sillon. Architecture also flourished, gaining international prestige with the Art Nouveau of Victor Horta (1861-1947) and Henry van de Velde (1863-1957), among others. One of the distinguishing features of this renaissance was the number of private houses tailored to the owners' requirements, including many buildings commissioned by artists and, particularly, by sculptors.

Methodology and typology

Previous studies of nineteenth-century artists' studios have drawn on a combination of visual sources, such as engravings, paintings and photographs, and written descriptions in contemporary magazines, newspapers and occasionally in novels, diaries and letters. Yet both types of source - particularly the iconographic ones - present the studio as a mise-en-scene that is largely stage-managed by the artist and often plays down the act of making (the labour) of art in favour of the more highly valued inventio and inspiration. …

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