Thursday, 9 June 2011

Paul Hankar (1859-1901)

This house is best seen in afternoon sunshine when it looks truly resplendent with its imposing height and breadth, enormous twin horseshoe-arched first floor windows and, above all, its startling colour imagery on the façade. It was built on a double plot in 1897 for the artist, Albert Ciamberlani, at 48 rue Defacqz off avenue Louise. Ciamberlani designed the spectacular Symbolist imagery and it was executed in sgraffito (a technique of incising designs in coloured plaster) by artist and poster designer, Adolphe Crespin. The medallions on the entablature represent the Labours of Hercules, set in a frame of decorative urns and sunflower blooms. The circular floral motif is repeated for a third time in the cast-iron balcony rail. The architect was Paul Hankar, a close friend and associate of the better known Victor Horta. Four years later, Hankar’s premature death in 1901 would end his promising career his and only a few examples from his relatively small output survive.

Four years earlier in 1893, Hankar designed and built his own house and studio at 71 rue Defacqz. At the same time, on the next street, the Hôtel Tassel was being constructed to a design by Victor Horta and these two events are often described as the birth of the Art Nouveau house. Hankar’s plan prefigured Horta’s design for his home by dividing the building vertically into a studio and working area on the left and living accommodation on the right. The studio section was formed from rustic stonework on the ground floor with mostly ironwork and glass above. The accommodation section was mainly brick with polychrome window surrounds. Sgraffito decoration, again by Crespin, is present on both sections and the two are unified by sharing common brickwork. Art Nouveau was notable for its brevity but Hankar was spared the painful task of adjusting to a post-Art Nouveau world and never experienced the critical odium that would descend upon the style.

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