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Title: Lyrische lijnen, kleurige klanken
Subtitle: Het interieur van de Feestzaal van de Antwerpse dierentuin, een realisatie van Henri Verbuecken uit 1897-1898
Author(s): GRIETEN, Stefaan
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 41    Date: 2019   
Pages: 83-105
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.41.0.3286032

Abstract :
In 1897-1898 the painter-designer Henri Verbuecken (1848-1926) created a remarkable interior for the party hall of the Antwerp Zoo at the heart of the party complex that had been constructed between 1895 and 1903 after a design by Emile Thielens, an architect who was attached to the commissioner, the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KMDA). This complex implied a scaling up of the infrastructure in order to meet the increasing success of the KMDA as a zoo, a civic meeting place and an organiser of cultural events. Moreover, the complex offered a solution to the urban development in which the construction of the new station building and the accompanying infrastructure upgraded the station square into an urban passage through which residents and visitors entered and left the city. Verbuecken cooperated in the decoration of the façade of the new party complex on the side of the square, a façade intended to present what the KMDA had to offer as well as its qualities. For the party hall itself Verbuecken created an interior finish that evoked the full range of activities in this room. The walls on the lower floor were painted with musical instruments, those on the first floor were decorated with faces, masks and animal heads from all corners of the world and all cultures, while on the second floor large scenes illustrate the history of dance and music throughout the centuries. The orchestra area features a fairy-tale scene of enchanting sounds rising up from the orchestra and causing people to float in ecstasy through a wooded landscape – an idea that reveals the influence of Jan Toorop. In this grand decorative scheme Verbuecken introduced numerous exotic motifs and references that are typical of his oeuvre. He presented this iconography in a legible style with motifs and characteristics based on the work of contemporary artists such as Toorop, Henri Guérard, Adolphe Crespin and Eugène Grasset, but idiosyncratically incorporated into an original and coherent ensemble. Verbuecken’s choice of motifs and the atmospheres they evoke closely matched the concept of the zoo itself, which presented an exotic and adventurous panorama in its animal park and also translated this into pavilions that conjured up ancient cultures and faraway places. The introduction and early reception of the art nouveau style offered opportunities to construct a similar message, and Thielens – but above all Verbuecken – used and adapted this style in the party complex. The result was a unique art nouveau ensemble, which deserves proper care in order to protect it from inappropriate and disturbing interventions.

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