A landmark in the Year of Art Nouveau in Brussels is the opening of Maison Hannon, the newest Art Nouveau museum in our city. Maison Hannon is not only an exceptional and unique example of the Art Nouveau architectural heritage, but a whole synergy between craftsmanship, cooperation and sustainability. Thus, it is not only a museum, but a whole concept!
Designed by the architect Jules Brunfaut at the request of the Hannon couple, Marie and Édouard, in 1902, the Maison Hannon is found on the corner of Brugmann and Jonction avenues in Saint-Gilles. Édouard Hannon (1853-1931) was an engineer, hired at the age of 23 by the Solvay group who reformed the group’s worldwide production giving him the opportunity to travel all over Europe, Russia and the United States. An exceptional mind, his affinity to arts and widely travelled spirit reflects in the “portrait-house”. Conceived as a dreamlike, symbolist enclosed universe, the Maison Hannon is the synthesis of Marie’s mature taste for botany and the “import” of French taste in the decor, furthermore, Edouard’s taste for poetry, antiquity and technology. The Paris World Exhibition of 1900 was decisive for the couple who met there the Frenchman Emile Gallé, Master of Art nouveau in Nancy, France. It was him who – as a real exception – furnished entirely the interior of the house joining together the Belgian and French tastes.
After such a glorious beginning, the walls of the house could also tell long stories of theft, degradation and ransacking. After decades of adversity, a new restoration campaign started in 2014. In 2019, on the initiative of the Municipality of Saint-Gilles and Brussels Region, the non-profit organization Maison Hannon was created in order to open the building as a museum, along with the Horta Museum, and to continue the restoration. It was not only the structure to be saved, but the soul of the house that needed to be rediscovered. The man for the job became Grégory Van Aelbrouck. Ever since being hired to become the Curator of Maison Hannon, he works hard to remove piece by piece the vails that cover both in literal and in metaphorical terms the house: “We are extremely well documented on the stages of the construction and the choices made: accounting invoices, old and more recent photos, stratigraphic surveys inform us and complement each other. We even have information on the power of the light bulbs and the models of radiators. Such a corpus is quite rare and requires that we take the time to compile and interpret it. Therefore, we decided to bring together a team of specialists for each type of finish or element in order to approach the veracity as closely as possible and to combine academic research with field research. In this sense, this house is a space of experimentation that will allow us to understand and further define the Art Nouveau era. The dialogue between craftsmanship and research remains a central point.”
The opening of the “house-museum” under the name of Maison Hannon on 1st June 2023 is the result of an unprecedented private-public partnership in Belgium that represents a real collaborative project gathering major actors. Furthermore, this partnership envisages to include the public as well. 2023 marks not just the end of the first restoration campaign, but it is also the beginning of the second phase that will be carried out until 2030, the year of Belgium’s bicentenary. It is a rather innovative concept that the process of the restoration becomes itself the attraction. A unique and relevant opportunity in which the public will be invited to participate on conferences, guided tours, meetings with craftsmen and crowd giving campaigns. Part of the ticket price will be used to finance the restoration at the core of which reversibility and sustainability lie: the aim is not to alter the building and to pass it on in the best possible conditions to future generations – while allowing solving contemporary issues, such as the energy question.