WHO IS Paul Cauchie?
Paul Cauchie is a major figure of the Art Nouveau period (1890-1910) in Belgium. He was an architect, painter and decorator who produced several hundreds of sgraffitos.
In 1905, Cauchie built his house at 5 rue des Francs in Etterbeek (part of Brussels-Capitale). His house clashes with the style of the other grand architect at that time, Victor Horta.
Left: part of the facade. Right: the model of the complete facade exposed inside the museum.
WHAT IS sgraffito?
Sgraffito is a type of wall decor dating back to the ancient times and which became trendy again with Art Nouveau.
Sgraffito is cheaper than other techniques. You apply a first layer of 1-2 centimenters of plaster and charcoal, covered by a second layer of plaster only.
Before this second layer dries up, the artist scratches the material following a pattern. The painting is also done while this layer is still moist. A gold leaf or copper gilding can be added as the final touch.
These sketches by Cauchie were found in the attics of the house, as insulating material!
“Style nouille” (Noodle style)
Art Nouveau was born out of a reaction to the industrialisation in the 19th century. Against the decrease of creativity, artists launched an architectural and decorative art inspired by natural forms and structures, showing curved lines.
A symbol of it is the rose which shows the importance of the theme of nature. You can find many roses in Cauchie’s artworks, in the hair of his muses for example.
But the first world war happened and left the people desillusioned. Nicknamed “Noodle Style”, Art Nouveau became less popular and was replaced by the more geometrical forms of Art Deco (1910-1940).
THE ADVERTISING FACADE
To expose his art and get famous, Cauchie took the opportunity of a competition to create the most beautiful building façade in his street.
It is the early 20th century and Cauchie builds his house facing the Parc du Cinquantenaire (a park built in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence). He thinks he can attract his clients with this big frontal advertisement!
Cauchie decorated the building with muses of manual works such as jewelry and brodery, an art made by his wife Lina.
Part of the sgaffito inside the apartment. On the right, you can see the one and only male figure pictured on the mural artworks.
INSIDE THE HOUSE
Nowadays the basement and the groundfloor are part of a museum. The groundfloor, nicknamed “beautiful floor” is where Cauchie used to receive his clients. It can be visited only one sunday per month. And people are queueing for it.
This floor consists of three rooms in a row: the reception, the living and the dining rooms. Back then the apartment had no closing door in-between these spaces to let the light go through from both sides of the building.
In the first room all the walls are decorated with sgraffitos. The oak furniture was also designed and produced by the artist to perfectly fit into the wall decor. To impress his visitors with a low budget, Cauchie painted the windows of the furniture in a color giving the illusion that it was copper.
You can find additional artworks in the fireplace of the living room and on the wall of the inner courtyard that you can admire it from the dining room window.
The other floors of the building are currently rented by private individuals!
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