The Maison Hannon is one of the masterpieces of art nouveau in Brussels, uniting Belgian art nouveau with French art nouveau in a symbolist and dreamlike universe. Built on the corner of Avenue Brugmann and Avenue de la Jonction in Saint-Gilles, it was commissioned by the Hannon couple whose name it bears, Marie and Edouard, from their architect friend Jules Brunfaut in 1902.
Edouard and Marie Hannon
Édouard Hannon (1853-1931) was an engineer, hired at the age of twenty-three by the Solvay group and sent to Dombasle, in the suburbs of Nancy (Lorraine, France), the first plant built abroad. Considered one of the group's most efficient managers, his sensitivity to social issues did not prevent him from being critical of the hierarchy. In 1879 he married Marie Debard (1857-1926) in Dombasle, only to be called back to the head office in Ixelles in 1883, where he reformed the group's world production, giving him the opportunity to travel in Europe, Russia, the United States and to engage in photographic work. In 1907, Alfred and Ernest Solvay appointed him to the position of Chief Executive Officer, the only person to hold this position who was not from the family.
Today, the Hannon name is associated with the house and with photography. Indeed, Édouard Hannon tried his hand at pictorialism, of which he was the precursor in Belgium. He participated in the foundation of the Belgian Association of Photography, which worked to raise this medium to the rank of art, and in 1894 he won the gold medal at the first Paris-Club exhibition in Paris. Main Belgian figure of the movement, his work shows a great technical mastery and both sociological and documentary view of the subjects he photographed during his travels. Social realism and ancient architecture mingle with industrial landscapes and sublimations of nature.
Conceived as a closed, dreamlike, and symbolist universe, the Maison Hannon is the synthesis of Marie's taste for botany and Édouard's taste for poetry, antiquity, and technology. The Paris Exhibition of 1900 was decisive for the couple, who met the French Master of Art nouveau, Emile Gallé. Enthusiastically, they asked their friend Jules Brunfaut (1852-1942) to draw inspiration from the houses of Victor Horta (his personal house, Tassel and Wessinger hotels), of Ernest Blérot (personal house, destroyed nowadays), of Octave Van Rysselbeghe and Henry Van de Velde (Otlet hotel), to create a unique work.
Jules Brunfaut, unfamiliar with the Art Nouveau style, achieved a master stroke by combining the Beaux-Arts style with modernity, the Art Nouveau. The greenhouse, built entirely of metal, literally overflows onto the street, and sets the house apart. In addition, the architect, accustomed to the exercise, placed a bas-relief by the sculptor Victor Rousseau (1865-1954) on the corner of the two avenues, which is an allegory of time suspended at sunset.
This work is the symbolist key to understand the philosophy of the interior, furnished entirely - a real exception - by Émile Gallé's establishments (chandeliers and furniture), decorated by contemporary works by James Ensor, Victor Rousseau or Émile Claus. The vast frescoes by Paul Baudouin (1844-1931), a disciple of the artist Puvis de Chavannes, are displayed like tapestries in the stairwell and the reception room. Allegories of the couple's maturity are depicted in an antique decorum, while marble and mosaics of great variety respond to them. In short, Belgian, French tastes, and the tastes of Edward and Marie, are combined here. In this sense, we can speak of a portrait house.
Hotel or Maison Hannon?
The name "Hôtel Hannon" appeared at the time of the classification of the place, probably to give the building its letters of nobility (mansion) when the art nouveau style was depreciated. Moreover, from the point of view of architectural criteria, the building does not meet any of them: no carriage entrance or vestibule to allow cars to pass through, no service staircase for servants, semi-buried kitchens, rather narrow facade width...
For the sake of accuracy, but also to give the place a more human dimension, we decided to call the place "Maison Hannon", in all languages.
After Édouard and Marie
When the Hannon couple's daughter died in 1965, the family decided to sell the property, which was subject to theft, damage, and ransacking. In 1972, Marie Van Mulders-Brunfaut, daughter of Jules Brunfaut, raised the alarm with the Royal Commission for Monuments and Sites and the classification of the facades and roof was adopted in 1976 to prevent the construction of an apartment building.
In the meantime, the art nouveau had become an object of attention and the building was visited on numerous occasions. In 1979, the Commune of Saint-Gilles acquired the property, with the intention of preserving the building at a time when its dilapidated state was the subject of much press coverage.
In 1983, the interior was listed, and a vast renovation campaign was undertaken following the detection of merula. The objective: to save what could be preserved while modernizing the place to install the Contretype gallery. Contretype was inaugurated with great pomp and circumstance on 21 September 1988 by Charles Picqué. Under the impetus of the director of Contretype, Jean-Louis Godefroid, the place organized numerous exhibitions and worked actively to promote the work of Édouard Hannon and the building. Unfortunately, in 2014, the place was left without a purpose. A new restoration campaign was then undertaken by the Commune and the Origin office, to save the badly deteriorated fresco in the stairwell and restore the mosaics, the windows, and the greenhouse. In 2019, on the initiative of the Municipality and the Region, the non-profit organization Maison Hannon was created to open the building as a museum, together with the Horta Museum, and to continue the restoration.