Walking Tour

Art Nouveau and “Congo style”

© Luc et Laurent Viatour

In 1897, Edmond van Eetvelde, Secretary General of the Congo Free State, made the remarkable decision to entrust four Art Nouveau architects with the task of designing the Congolese section of the Brussels International Exposition in Tervuren. This choice was surprising because at that time Art Nouveau was a modern style most favoured by the new industrialist middle class and rather looked down on by the aristocracy and the King. However, van Eetvelde was motivated by two strategic reasons. First, the International Exposition was a mass-market event that, through Art Nouveau, could be used to sway public opinion in favour of colonialism. Second, he hoped it would charm the new Belgian industrialist middle class and persuade them to invest in the colonial enterprise. His gamble paid off because the Congolese section at Tervuren was such a success that "Congo style" became a synonym for Art Nouveau.

This guided tour will take the above episode as the basis for an exploration, through public space, of how Art Nouveau was also used as a colonial propaganda tool during the reign of King Leopold II. It will include Square Ambiorix/Ambiorixsquare and pass in front of Edmond van Eetvelde's house (the Hôtel van Eetvelde) designed by Victor Horta. This iconic building, as well as some other Art Nouveau masterpieces in the Squares district, will be used to demonstrate the historical and aesthetic links between Art Nouveau and colonialism.

In cooperation with ARAU.

Practical information

Sat. & Sun. at 10:00 and 14:00 (French) (duration: 2 hours)

Starting point: at the corner of Square Marie-Louise/Maria-Louizasquare and Rue Ortélius/Ortéliusstraat – Brussels

Advance booking required. Up to 25 people per tour.