Blog Exhibitions

Unveiling the Stoclet House

Since its inscription, the Stoclet House in Brussels has been a thorn in the side of the WH community, whose members generally enjoy “the romantic idea that a “World Heritage” should be accessible to the world” (it's even #1 of our Commandments). Its closure has been compared to that of very strict nature reserves, but there at least the buffer zone often supplies similar values (though a bit more degraded) and a visitor center. No other means of interpretation are available for the Stoclet House and what you can see now is the tip of the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' iceberg. Not only can you not visit its interior, but you can also not even see its garden (explicit part of the OUV) and its ‘best’ exterior architecture; any view now is limited to the austere back façade. When you stand on the pavement in front of the building at the Tervurenlaan this is often not understood. Look at this maquette for what the building fully involves:

It's like a small palace (the French name generally used is "Palais Stoclet"), with elaborately designed gardens and terraces and all of that within a city setting.

The exhibition and 3D experience

The Museum for Art and History in Brussels has provided temporary relief from this drought by offering (until April 14) an exhibition on the works of Josef Hoffmann, who was the architect/designer of the Stoclet House. I visited it in its closing days. Special exhibitions like this would be sold out long beforehand in Amsterdam, but here, at this unassuming museum in an oversized building at the Jubelpark, there were plenty of tickets available at the counter and only a handful of visitors roaming the halls. In the first exhibition room, we get to know Hoffmann, his role in the Vienna Succession and the central position of the Gesamtkunstwerk in his work. There are many of his sketches, some furniture and sets of dinnerware, but his best works seem to have been left behind in Viennese museums. I did enjoy the maquettes of buildings he designed such as Cabaret Fledermaus

An extension of this exhibition (added only in January after another row with the Stoclet Family) is a 3D impression of the interior. It is called "Stoclet 1911 - Restitution" and is accessible on the same ticket as the Hoffmann exhibition. The video which shows the interior of the building as it was in its initial years (1911-1915) was made by the Architecture Faculty of Brussels University. It took them 2 years to complete. Based on old photos, sketches and plans and presented as a film, it lets you step into and walk around in the interior of the Stoclet House. A short extract can be seen here.

The video starts with an outside view as it was in 1911, when the facades were white and the ornaments shiny. You then enter a series of rooms. There's a remarkable indoor fountain in one of the corridors. We see the stage of the small theater that is also part of the building. Several of the spaces have black marble walls, which combined with the - I cannot say it otherwise - 'dated' red and brown furniture by Hoffmann resemble a nightclub from the 1970s. The best room seems to be the dining hall: this looks very elegant and is decorated with friezes by Gustav Klimt.

A revisit

After I had seen the exhibition, I couldn't withstand a quick revisit to the building itself. It lies only one metro stop away from the museum, going from Merode to Montgomery. There were three cars present in its parking lot, so things still seem to be going on here although the house hasn't been lived in since 2002. By slowly walking along the fence you can capture some of the Art Nouveau details.

Possible future access

The access situation has been in the News over the past weeks, as the Brussels Government has approved a ruling that any WHS in their jurisdiction has to allow visitors at least 10 days a year. But it has to be seen whether this is a real breakthrough. It has not been ratified by Parliament yet, and even if it will, there are many appeals possible and other ways to delay the execution of the decision (the house surely wouldn’t be ready to receive visitors yet). The Stoclet heirs and the Brussels government have been battling for ages, and there is a lot of bad blood on both sides. The public officials have been pointing at the financial support Brussels yearly provides for its upkeep, but the owners say they put in more of their own money.

For now, the best thing the Brussels Government can do is to keep the 3D experience of the interior on show somewhere in its museums, as it provides a long-awaited interpretation of the OUV of this Gesamtkunstwerk that cannot be admired in any other way.

Els - 7 April 2024

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Astraftis 16 April 2024

So, I went to the exhibition and there were quite some visitors, maybe because it was the weekend. I liked it, but for sure at 18€ (even when counting the rest of the museum) it was totally overpriced. And for heaven's sake, how can you think of closing such a gigantic museum at 17?!?! Anyway, showcase and panels were nice, and the maquette great pieces to understand Hoffmann's works.

Then I also took the opportunity of a sunny evening to go to the house itself, and maybe because of the virtual visit to the interiors, I was still rather impressed. And yes, there was a car parked also this time, so something is stirring!

Astraftis 8 April 2024

Heading straight to the exposition (and the palais itself) this weekend! Thanks for pointing it out, you are always at the forefront! :-)

Jay T 7 April 2024

This sounds like a great exhibition, and I can only hope they do choose to keep some of it on display for posterity, especially if the legal fight over access to Stoclet continues to drag on.