One of the nicest things about Brussels is its striking Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. In spite of the indiscriminate destruction of the city due to Bruxellisation (Brusselization), there remains several historic buildings that have been carefully restored to their former grandeur.

Not only can you admire them while walking along the streets, some of these buildings are also open to the public. One example is Maison Cauchie (Cauchie House) in the Etterbeek commune, opposite Parc du Cinquantenaire.

Located on 5 rue des Francs, Maison Cauchie is open to the public only on the first weekend of every month from 1000-1300 and 1400-1730.

The house was built in 1905, the year when renowned Art Nouveau architect, painter and designer Paul Cauchie married his wife, Carolina Voet. Maison Cauchie was designed to function both as the couple’s home and workplace, as demonstrated by the central artwork on the building’s facade which reads Par Nous, Pour Nous” (by us, for us).

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Years after both husband and wife had passed away, Maison Cauchie fell into disrepair before it was purchased by Guy et Léo Dessicy who spent 15 years getting it restored to its original splendour. 

We joined a guided tour led by the Dessicy’s grandson which I found very informative. Some interesting facts:

  • The design of the building is highly symmetrical, be it the impressive sgraffito on the facade or the layout of the living room on the first floor.
  • The sgraffito on the facade is the largest of its kind that still exists in Belgium.
  • Cauchie’s wife and daughter covered the elaborate sgraffiti in the living room with wallpaper after he died. This remarkable work which depicts the five senses was discovered when the building was being restored.DSCF4651k64
  • Japonism is evident throughout – for instance, the curved white edge at the top of the facade is inspired by torii (Japanese temple gates) while each of the above-mentioned ‘sense’ in the living room includes a reference to Japanese culture.
  • An admirer of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and influenced by the Glasgow School, Cauchie incorporated rose designs into his work, a nod to the distinctive Mackintosh rose.

What was particularly amusing was the pair of doors at the ground floor: Only one of them opens into the house while the other (on the left) is a trompe l’oeil. The main purpose of the latter is to maintain the symmetry of the building, though this is also a reference to Japonism as it is believed that a fake door will mislead evil spirits and prevent them from entering the house!

Like in some other historic buildings in Brussels (e.g. Horta Museum), photography is prohibited inside Maison Cauchie. I’m not sure why this is so and would have liked very much to be able to capture some of the details of the artwork around the house. Perhaps it is to encourage visitors to buy the catalogue or postcards, but I would have rather be charged a nominal fee for taking photographs.

Fortunately, before realising that photography is forbidden, I had taken a photograph of a sgraffito in the centre area of the living room. This had caught my eye as the style of this symmetric design is different from what I had seen around and inside of the building.

This features a girl with heavy double eyelids and long straight hair. There are circular patterns around her and four eyes beneath her face, and no rose motif.

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This sgraffito is placed in front of a portion of the chimney. Someone had cut a hole (!) through the centre of this sgraffito and probably used it as a fireplace of sorts.

While the sgraffito suffered significant damage, as you can see here, it was restored using archival photographs of the living room. However, because the photographs were in black and white, it was not clear what were its original colours so the craftsmen used colours corresponding to those in the rest of the sgraffiti in Maison Cauchie. As such, I thought it would be quite fitting to render this photograph in black and white.

There’s plenty of information online in English and in French about the design and architecture of Maison Cauchie.

I’d recommend Lia’s post if you’re interested to read more about the art of sgraffito and Japonism. The post on Auror’ Art & Soul contains additional information (in French) about the design of the house and includes many images. For more pictures of existing works of sgraffito, check out this blog on Art Nouveau and Jugendstil.

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17 replies on “Maison Cauchie: Art Nouveau + Sgraffito

  1. Its a shame such buildings have to be ‘rescued’ and are not seen in real time for their worth. What a shame you took a photo before you realised the ban 😉 One way is to shoot from the waist with an articulated screen to frame the shot – silent shutters are a boon.

    1. At least they were rescued in time before being torn down, which was what happened to some other buildings such as Victor Horta’s Maison du Peuple (in which place, a run-of-the-mill tower was built). I’m waiting for my turn to try out a Yaschica T5, as part of a ‘Travelling Yaschica’ project 🙂

  2. Oh, you made it! AB’s alarm system works after all! So glad you enjoyed it and that you managed at least one photo! It’s a shame photography is not allowed in places like this – images should be spread liberally, especially after so much (wonderful) work is done on renovation. Thank you for linking up my post 🙂

  3. bummer you couldn’t take more photos but what a jewel you did manage to get! we haven’t seen it yet….had you posted photos, we might not have needed to go for ourselves….could be another reasoning behind the no photos?

  4. Interesting place and article!
    I once took photos of an entire photography exhibit before I noticed the no photography signs – I saw them in my photos. I asked the meseum for permission to blog about them which was kindly given.

    You may be right about trying to improve sales in the gift shop but I suspect it could also be related to not wanting flash photography degrading the painting. Since many people are clueless about how to turn off the flash on their camera it is easier to say no to photography.

  5. It’s ironic to have discovered the ‘no photography’ sign in your photographs 🙂 You might be right about the flash. We were at the royal greenhouses over the weekend and it was a bright sunny day and people were taking photographs with flash (and there were no backlit subjects).

  6. Your posts are always well research and thoroughly enjoyable. I love the feel of your blog–and Lia’s too!
    That building is exquisite. It’s definitely a “she”. I like to give buildings gender. She is a real lady from another era.
    🙂

  7. What a fascinating house! Thank you for sharing. I was very struck by that round doorway in the top photo (in fact, it’s what made me curious enough to read the rest of the post more slowly than I might otherwise have done), and when I clicked on the “mobilier” link I immediately thought of the Mackintosh buildings and furniture we saw while in Glasgow.

    Sometimes I wonder if “no photography” rules (I agree, as a photography-happy sightseer, it is a pain!) are also intended to force visitors to really look and pay attention rather than just snapping away. It’s a courtesy not only to guests, but to the tour guides. People like us take photos thoughtfully, but many people don’t, and it is annoying to be trying to enjoy a sight while obnoxious tourists are taking selfies next to one. ;b (For instance, it’s impossible to properly inspect the Mona Lisa — or “Starry Night” in NYC — for this reason!)

      1. Fortunately, there are several of these gems in Brussels that are still standing and open to public. Good point about photography getting in the way and reducing the joy of the experience. I can just imagine people taking selfies with Mono Lisa!
        Ah, maybe also by preventing photography, they are hoping that some people will return to see again some of the details that have not been captured in any public pictures?;)

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