“… she looked with dazzled eyes at the splendors that surrounded her. These candelabras, these walls draped in satin, a matte red, embossed with silk flowers, shimmered like grains of silver, danced before her eyes and sparkled like white sparks on the purple of a blaze.”
Joris-Karl Huysmans, Marthe, histoire d’une fille
The memory of the pleasure houses and boudoirs of the Belle Époque serves as a common thread for the three enfilade salons of Maison Souquet: a first salon, ‘for conversation,’ reserved for men; a ‘presentation’ salon that brought together courtesans and clients; and an ‘after’ salon where the latter could have a drink or smoke a cigar after going up to the floors.
Throughout these salons, mirrors, works of art, and furniture dating from the late 19th century, silky drapes, and Impressionist paintings of enticingly curved women evoke the spicy scent of these enclosed spaces that were a breeding ground for inspiration for many artists, where lights, laughter, conversations, champagne, and music mingled.
Now, in the comfort of velvet banquettes, fine dishes, precious spirits, and exclusive cocktails are savored at any time in an intimate atmosphere conducive to confidences. In the evening, by candlelight and amidst jasmine scents, this haven of beauty truly becomes magical, leading its guests on a journey out of time and fashion.
Reflecting the orientalism in vogue in the 19th century, the first salon flamboyantly inaugurates Maison Souquet. Designed in 1895 at the request of a Belgian aristocrat for his Brussels mansion, it spent six months in the hands of expert artisans to be adapted to fit the house. Illuminated by a rare ‘pagoda’ chandelier in Murano glass, its spectacular décor of twisted columns and intricate arcades, coffered ceiling, and walls covered in Cordovan leather inset with precious enamel plaques, resembles the most beautiful Moorish palaces of the 19th century.
Adorned with a charming painting by Emile Baes illustrating a female nude, this first salon, a sort of private club, was once reserved for men, who gathered there before heading to the ‘Salon of Small Pleasures’: amid cigar smoke and wafts of perfumes occasionally escaping the corridors, a prelude to future enchantments, conversations flowed freely while the rumors of the city faded away.
Hidden behind a heavy velvet curtain, this salon offers a particularly intimate atmosphere with its warm tones and wood paneling dressing a monumental fireplace in Belgian marble. Between the bar and the library filled with ancient books, its beautiful indiscretion lined with velvet encourages discussions, reading, or board games, chess or backgammon, facing a large canvas by Charles Swyncop illustrating the women that Toulouse-Lautrec loved to paint so much: seated on a red velvet stool, a half-undressed ‘lady of the day,’ satin ribbon around her neck as a jewel, sidelong glance and pouting mouth, raises her arms in a sign of abandonment. Perhaps she was one of the young ladies of Maison Souquet who, gathered in this presentation salon, passed the time drinking champagne before going upstairs through a secret door to offer a moment of ecstasy.
Overlooking the indiscreet, the chandelier in the salon displays twelve branches ending in women with rounded torsos. In a mischievous round, about eighty small heads of men carved in the wall woodwork now watch them for eternity…
The intimate atmosphere of the preceding salon is further enhanced in this Winter Garden, with bottle-green hangings and floral fabrics typical of the late 19th century subtly announcing the small adjacent garden. Surrounded by antique mirrors that infinitely multiply the play of glances and light, a beautiful Nathanael Sichel painting with a bucolic theme offers this padded setting a spring-like tone. It is here, after a stay in one of the twenty rooms of the house, that men rested amidst the scents of strong liqueurs and murmurs of naughty conversations before leaving the premises to return to the city’s hustle and bustle.
Enjoyed by smokers, the small garden with walls covered in almond green trellises encourages confidences with its swan-neck bench reminiscent of Malmaison: a subtle conclusion to the sequence of these salons with the enchanting scent of the Belle Époque.