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Anne Bony - Historienne de l'art - Maître d'oeuvre de les collection les années (...)

Et Meubles et Décors au éditions du regard.

“Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all get back to craft!” proclaimed Walter Gropius in his manifesto for the Bauhaus school in 1919.

 

The founding hopes of Gropius continued into the modern movement. From Le Corbusier to Mies  van  der  Rohe,  Europe  was  counting  its  masters.  Victor  Bourgeois  (Charleroi  1897- Brussels 1962) established himself in Belgium.

 

During his studies at the Brussels Academy of Architecture (1919) he rejected the historicism taught by its professors. With his brother, the poet Pierre Bourgeois (Charleroi 1898-Berchem Sainte Agathe 1976) he got involved in setting up an arts centre and started some journals. The most important was the weekly journal 7arts (1922-1928) which gained international renown. In this journal they developed interdisciplinary ideas and became the mouthpiece of the modern movement  in  Belgium.  Correspondence  with  Theo  van  Doesburg  and  many  trips  to  the Netherlands also reinforced the influence of the “De Stijl” movement. On the request of Mies van  der  Rohe,  Victor  Bourgeois  was  the  only  Belgian  invited  to  build  a  dwelling  in  the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart in 1927. Le Corbusier was there with two works from France and Mart Stam and J.J.P. Oud for the Netherlands. The overall plan of the site looks like an abstract sculpture made up of blocks of different sizes with the layout blending with the topography of the  site.  The  dominant  impression  of  the  exhibition  is  universality,  white  cubic  volumes, stripped down flat shapes, open plans and industrial-type details.

 

The following year he was among a Belgian delegation to the first International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM); he took part in preparing the second CIAM in Frankfurt (1929) and organised the third congress in Brussels (1930). In spite of his international career and his active involvement in defending great utopian projects like the Cité Moderne, Victor Bourgeois, like many of his friends of the modern movement, only designed individual houses and studios for private clients: the Latinis’ house (1926), Mondalt’s house (1927), Albert Lamblot’s house (1929) and the holiday home of Herman Teirlinck and Karel Maes (1928). These architectural works  express  his  vision  of  the  “machine  for  living”  using  a  pared  down style  and  robust volumes, characterised by rounded corners and cylindrical shapes. He took part in the exhibition of Nancy-Paris (1926) organised by Jean Lurçat alongside Le Corbusier, Robert Mallet-Stevens, etc. Victor Bourgeois subscribed to the “five points of modern architecture” published by Le Corbusier that year. Meanwhile Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) suggested that he form a group of artists in Belgium.

 

For the modern movement, architecture was turning out to be the medium for uniting the arts. There are many examples that illustrate this fusion of thought, the studio of the Martel brothers (sculptors) by Robert Mallet-Stevens (1927) in Paris and the studio of the painter René Guiette (1893-1976) by Le Corbusier (1926-1927) in Brussels.

 

The design of the studio of sculptor Oscar Jespers (1928) in Brussels in the Woluwe-Saint-Lambert district by Victor Bourgeois confirms these chosen affinities. It expresses his modernist ideas,  puts  into  question  any  idea  of  style  and  turns  towards  an  idea  of  pure  plastic  that combines simple volumes in osmosis with the artistic commitments of his client and friend.

 

Oscar Jespers (1887-1970) undertook his career as a sculptor in direct contact with the material in order to extract all the tension from it. He tackles size in white stone, marble, Belgian blue stone and expresses a Cubist aesthetic with synthetic volumes. His works unfurl echoing the theory of the painter Paul Cézanne (1902) on the use of the fundamental shapes of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.

 

The space designed by Victor Bourgeois for the studio comes under abstract art and the same lack of ornamentation; the shapes play with full and empty spaces and guide the light. Geometry replaces  ornamentation  and the bare  windows of the façade are industrial. He translates  his “architectural promenade” with a radial logic from the cylindrical staircase marrying aesthetics and practicality. This timeless architecture is distinguished as one of the masterpieces of the modern movement in Belgium, following the examples of the Villa Savoye (1928-1931) by Le Corbusier in France and the German pavilion in Barcelona (1928-29) by Mies van der Rohe.

Acinthe Gigou - Historienne de l'art– directrice de l’association Arkadia in Les Nouvelles du patrimoine, numero 148 – septembre 2015

“Our sculptures are a reflection of our spiritual being; for this reason the shapes depicted in sculptures differ from those of real life; sculpture is an abstraction.” That is how Oscar Jespers described sculpture in 1964. He was born in Borgerhout, the municipality next to Anvers, in 1887. He was the eldest son of the sculptor Emile Jespers and got his introduction to sculpture while playing in his father’s workshop. In 1900 he entered the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Anvers where he was an excellent student. At the beginning of his career, he worked with plaster, creating abstract pieces, then in the 1920s his main works were  in marble in the Cubist style with a clear African inspiration, before moving on to expressionism in the 1930s. He progressively moved away from the use of stone towards the use of bronze after the Second World War.

In 1946 he created the bas-relief of the Postal Cheque Office, rue de la Croix de Fer in Brussels, which was built by Victor Bourgeois in 1937. He also taught with Bourgeois at La Cambre, the renowned architecture and visual arts school.

Oscar lived in Anvers in the early 1920s. He wanted to build a modern workshop and first made contact with Le Corbusier. In 1924 he wrote a letter to his cousin and close collaborator Pierre Jeanneret, in which he mentioned that he was soon going to move to Paris with his wife and his child.   He requested the price of a site and a modest dwelling with a workshop in Boulogne or Vaucresson, but as the sites were already sold, his plan was quickly abandoned. In the end he stayed in Belgium and entrusted the project to another modernist architect, Victor Bourgeois, who had already some international acclaim.

Bourgeois (1897-1962) is the most important initiator of the international modern movement in Belgium. Socially committed, he distinguished himself by the extent of his building and written work, as well as the decisive role he played as a cultural organiser, teacher and founder of several artistic journals.  Thanks to the publication of one of his works in the journal 7 Arts - the Cité Moderne housing project of Berchem Sainte-Agathe - he gained international renown very early in his career.

In 1925 he built his own house and wanted it to become the headquarters of the Modern Movement in Brussels. Like his early designs, it is mainly influenced by the purism of the De Stijl movement, an influence that progressively disappeared from his work.

The home of the sculptor Oscar Jespers is representative of his later designs with formal research that combines a pared down style inspired by Le Corbusier and robust volumes, characterised by rounded corners and cylindrical shapes.

He was one of the few architects of the time to denounce what we now call one-off architecture, that is to say a private or public building that is completely autonomous without interaction with its surroundings.  He said “many architects prefer easel architecture, that is to say working in isolation and not considering the old or modern surroundings.”

• Plan, positioning

If today these modernist houses seem familiar to us and seem to be perfectly integrated into their surroundings (having hardly aged at all), it was a different story altogether in 1920.

Planning permission was not granted immediately by the municipality when it was thought at first that “the project for the façade could lead to protests from the inhabitants of the area. There is no cornice and the windows are very disproportional.”

The plan was relatively complex, with three separate parts: an artist’s workshop, two exhibition spaces and a private dwelling for a couple with children.

The monumental size of the Jespers’ sculptures required very high ceilings.

Therefore the workshop is of double height like the ground floor exhibition space, designed to exhibit large-scale works. Smaller format works are exhibited in the gallery in the first floor.

Despite its semi-detached location, the house has volumes in three dimensions, thanks to its curved façade which picks up the line of the two surrounding houses. This graceful curve gives a certain momentum to the facade as well as allowing as much light as possible in and contributing to its uniqueness.

The ground floor comprises the Sculptor’s Workshop, an exhibition space and a garage through which the stone blocks were brought in.  There’s a second exhibition space on the first floor and the second floor is the living area.

The building is made of a concrete frame and local brick walls rendered with cement painted white. The metal frames have very narrow profiles and are aligned on the elevation plan.

The living space is particularly well laid out on one floor. The bedrooms on the right are much more austere than the day rooms in the curved area, which are much more open. The workshop is glazed from end to end and exhibition spaces are very well lit from the curved windows of the façade. Here there is no decoration other than the light, the spaces and the traffic.

The Jespers family lived in the house until 1970 and after that there were several tenants including a photographic studio and the Peruvian ambassador.

The house was classified as a monument in 1995.

 

 

 

© Atelier Jespers - Erfprinslaan 149 Avenue du Prince Héritier -  Brussel 1200 Bruxelles

Contact : Jean-Francois Declercq +32 475 64 95 81- Elsa Sarfati +33 6 10 84 27 48  - jf@atelierjespers.com