Major improvement projects in Liège began in the second half of the 19th century. Entire districts underwent changes, such as the island of Outremeuse, while others arose at that time, such as Laveu. On the day after the Universal Exhibition of 1905, land in the Vennes-Fétinne district was divided into plots and many stately villas were built.
Liège´s industrial bourgeoisie dominated the economic and political landscape and demanded housing worthy of its status: homes equipped with the latest innovations, such as electricity and gas, and, above all, that symbolised modernity, progress and success. Victor Horta and Paul Hankar revolutionised traditional architectural practices in Brussels by promoting and demanding the use of glass, concrete or metal, materials that were usually reserved for major engineering constructions.
There was a rethinking of the spatial organisation of 19th-century homes, in which rooms were positioned in a row. Horta´s modular spaces around an inner courtyard challenged both the art of building and the concept of a bourgeois dwelling. The specific decorative repertoire of historical styles (Gothic, neo-Renaissance...) was gradually abandoned and new forms based on the plant world appeared. Art Nouveau was born.
Alongside Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, who was mainly active in the field of decorative arts, the architectural vanguard in Liège was dominated by Paul Comblen and Paul Jaspar, who were deeply influenced by the teachings of Paul Hankar. Sensitive to the organic influence of Art Nouveau, Paul Comblen was a strong adherent of "total art". The more prolific Paul Jaspar was the founder of a new concept in architecture based on the precepts of Hankar and a pictorial interpretation of the Mosan style, which would be dubbed "Old-Liège" in the Universal Exhibition of 1905. This close link between modernity and tradition endowed Art Nouveau in Liège with its distinctive character. More than a personal vocabulary, Jaspar created a "school", while his followers, including Victor Rogister or Clément Pirnay, applied his precepts.
Art Nouveau quickly became fashionable and transcended closed coteries of the avant-garde. Modern decorative repertoire was combined according to individual tastes. More so than Jaspar, Joseph Nusbaum mixed Art Nouveau and "Old-Liege", while Maurice Devignée associated it with historical styles. If the permanence of tradition is one of the features of Art Nouveau in Liège, the importance of decorative sculptures on façades was undoubtedly another. These were female heads with undulating hair that recalled Belle Époque posters and enlivened many buildings.
Art Nouveau in Liège reflected its bourgeois, progressive and tradition-based clientele. The movement had an ephemeral existence, barely 15 years, but its success on the banks of the Meuse, despite many demolitions, continues to define its urban landscape today.