Horta & Wolfers exhibition | Art & History Museum Brussels

The Horta & Wolfers exhibition combined two of my favourite things: jewellery design and Art Nouveau. We went there in December last year, for my birthday. Unfortunately, the exhibition has ended by now. But I have some photos to share for those interested.

The Art & History Museum of Brussels restored the jewellery shop of Wolfers Frères to its former glory. Curators have carefully reconstructed the shop as it was envisioned by Horta for its inauguration. This way, visitors of the museum could experience the grandeur of this jewellery store at the turn of the 20th century.

The Wolfers family are esteemed Belgian silversmiths and jewellers. They became known for their distinguished jewellery in the typical Art Nouveau style. At the height of their success they commissioned a new jewellery store in the centre of Brussels. The store was designed by Victor Horta, one of the most prominent Belgian architects during the Art Nouveau era.

The store opened in 1912 and was a prestigious work of art itself. The display cabinets are tall with a framework of dark mahogany and large glass panes that give their content the centre stage. A multitude of lamps made from brass and milk glass would have bathed the room in a soft glow. A little hard to imagine, considering museum spotlights are a necessary evil.

Art Nouveau is characterized by its organic forms, often taking inspiration from nature itself. And Wolfers jewellery is no exception, these delicate pieces are exquisitely shaped within the nature theme. Hair combs of opal butterflies, dragonfly necklaces, brooches shaped like gingko leaves, etc. Always made with the most precious stones and materials, of course.

Another feature of Art Nouveau is the heavy use of symbolism and references to myths and fables. Women were often portrayed as nymphs, valkyries and other mythical creatures. Wolfers Frères and many others created a large number of art pieces in this style made from silver and ivory .

Wolfers is still a jewellery brand today. They’re even purveyor to the Court of Belgium. Their collection is of course more contemporary in style, but there are some clever references to the past, such as dragonfly inspired pieces and their custom collection.

Photographer’s note

It was rather difficult to take good pictures of the exhibition. On one hand there’s the struggle of not getting one’s reflection in the glass of the display case. You can see the reflection of my hand on the face of the Mysterious Sphinx, for example. Something that might have been remedied with the use of a polarising filter, which I don’t have (yet).

But the most challenging part was photographing the jewellery. The large white spotlights aim straight on the display cases, making it difficult not to get a large white rectangle (a.k.a. blown out highlights) on my photos of said jewellery. It took a lot of cropping, spot correcting and dehazing to get at least a few decent photos. I wish I had more because the jewellery pieces are really exquisite works of art.