H Hector Guimard: G Architectural Elements
Jason Jacques Gallery Press
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Hector Guimard: Architect and Designer by Claire Cass
s with many artistic movements, Art Nouveau has become synonymous with a few key practitioners. Names such as Émile Gallé, Louis Majorelle, and René Lalique live on, diminishing Art Nouveau in France to a small cast of characters that safeguard its survival in our evershrinking cultural memory. The architect-designer Hector Guimard undoubtedly belongs on this short list of Art Nouveau luminaries. Yet wherein does his greatness lie? Guimard is often credited with introducing Art Nouveau style to French architecture. This is partly true, but fails to acknowledge that Art Nouveau was not a cohesive movement or style in the mid-1890s, when Guimard completed his first masterpiece, the Castel Béranger. Guimard, however, eagerly embraced modernity, a fundamental principle of the New Art. Rapidly accelerating industrial and social changes in fin-de-siècle Europe prompted a dramatic reappraisal of cultural artifacts: Proponents of Art Nouveau strove to imagine what the modern world should look like, and then to realize their objectives in a vast array of mediums. Guimard strongly believed that the modern architect must assume responsibility for designing every element of a
commission, from façade to doorknob. This all-encompassing approach placed him at the forefront of an international group of architect-designers who championed the creation of Gesamtkunstwerk, that is, total works of art. (Other innovators included Henry van de Velde and Victor Horta in Belgium, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland, and Antonio Gaudí in Spain.) Of these like-minded individuals, Henry van de Velde was the first to articulate the need to eliminate hierarchical divisions among the arts. “We can’t,” he wrote in 1894, “allow a split which aims at single-mindedly ranking one art above the others, a separation of the arts into high art and a second class, low industrial arts.” Van de Velde’s timely remarks expressed a growing sentiment among artists and artisans alike. No medium was too humble for the expression of artistic intent, and only by making ordinary objects beautiful could art be successfully integrated into modern life. For Guimard, the design philosophy that informed Gesamtkunstwerk enabled him to merge the functional and decorative aspects of his architecture into unified ensembles. Iron, whether wrought or cast, was elevated to new heights of decorative possibility. Guimard’s incomparably beautiful use of this humble metal strikes at the heart of the question of which elements of a building are worthy of being seen, as well as what constitutes “high” and “low” materials. Because of the artistry of its conception and fabrication, Guimard’s ironwork dwells on an equal aesthetic plane with more costly adornments.
ector-Germain Guimard was born in Lyon on March 10, 1867. His father, Germain René Guimard, was an orthopedist; his mother, Marie-Françoise Bailly, worked as a linen maid. At the time of his birth Guimard’s parents were
unmarried, but a civil ceremony held in June 1867 belatedly insured their son’s legitimacy. In October 1882 Guimard was admitted to the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where he excelled at his studies and garnered numerous competition awards. At this time he first encountered the writings of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, whose “rationalist” approach to design would play a major role in his artistic development. During the 1830s and 1840s Viollet-le-Duc had supervised the restoration of France’s Gothic cathedrals, often using modern materials such as cast iron to replace their decrepit frameworks. In Entretiens sur l’architecture (1863-72), he argued that building was as much a science as an art, and should address “conditions imposed by the needs and customs of the day.” Viollet-le-Duc’s writings encouraged young architects like Guimard to forge a style appropriate for the contemporary life, and to utilize materials that would best serve that style. Upon graduation from the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in March 1885, Guimard applied to the prestigious École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where he began attending classes in September 1885. His unconventional ideas inspired fellow students to nickname him “Ravachol of architecture,” after a notorious bomb-throwing anarchist of that name. Guimard’s work from this period met with little success from his professors, rarely earning more than an honorable mention in academic competitions. By 1891 the young architect was practicing without a degree, which he continued to pursue until April 1897, despite being older than thirty, the age limit for receiving a diploma. It is ironic that Guimard was seeking official recognition even as he was completing his first masterpiece, the Castel Béranger. Constructed between 1895 and 1897, the Castel Béranger guaranteed Guimard’s fame upon its completion. Located on the rue la Fontaine in Paris, the building was designed for multiple uses. Its 7,500 square foot ground floor accommodated boutiques, artists’ studios, and Guimard’s
studio and office. Remaining floors were filled with thirtysix apartments. The Castel Béranger was Guimard’s first large-scale work, and represents his first attempt to create Gesamtkunstwerk. It is also the first building in Paris to incorporate elements of Art Nouveau style. Guimard received the commission in the fall of 1894. Construction had already begun when in May 1895 he was invited to participate in the Exposition d’Art Appliqué in Liège. Guimard’s display was well reviewed by Paul Hankar, one of Belgium’s leading modern architects. In the summer of 1895, Guimard again visited Hanker, this time in Brussels, where he was introduced to Victor Horta. This meeting proved to be transformative for the Castel Béranger and its architect. In 1893 Victor Horta completed the Hôtel Tassel, the first fully realized example of Art Nouveau architecture. One of the building’s most dramatic features was its wrought iron ornamentation, which was used to create exquisite rhythmical whiplash curves throughout the interior. The dynamism of Horta’s ironwork derived from the vitality of plant forms, but was non-representational. In a famous epigram, Horta stated that he “left the flower and the leaf, and took the stalk.” The same linear plasticity is evidenced in the ironwork of the Castel Béranger, most notably in the front gate and large bow window. It is unsurprising, then, that Guimard dedicated his Castel Béranger portfolio to Horta. Despite its stylistic innovations, the Castel Béranger remains a transitional building in Guimard’s oeuvre. The angular volumes of its façade reveal a taste for the picturesque that Guimard had absorbed from Viollet-le-Duc. Balcony railings adorned with grotesque masks and iron hippocampi jutting from the façade inflect it with a Gothic flavor that can also be traced back to Viollet-le-Duc. The interior spaces, however, reveal Guimard at his most modern, notably in the vestibule’s cascading glazed stoneware panels. Throughout the interior, cast iron fulfils functional and decorative purposes, imbuing banisters and doors with exuberant abstract linearity. These swirling designs reappear in stained glass windows,
Front gate of Castel Beranger
Tragically, most of Guimard’s buildings have been demolished. One magnificent exception, the Maison Coilliot, survives on the rue de Fleurus in Lille. Built between 1898 and 1900, the Maison Coilliot demonstrates a marked advance in Guimard’s ability to unify modern and rustic elements on the same building. Built for Louis Coilliot, a manufacturer and retailer of art tiles and enameled stoneware, the narrow structure originally housed a ground floor showroom with living quarters above. The showroom front is composed mostly of lave emaillé, a material sometimes described as lava blocks, but actually a stoneware made from reconstituted clay powder. Coilliot invented this material, and Guimard used it to full advantage to advertise his client’s product. The planar showroom front is distinctly modern in its subtle undulations, with rustic contrast provided by the elaborate peaked balcony. Aside from its beautiful façade, the Maison Coilliot is notable for two reasons. Guimard’s signature on the façade includes the professional designation “Architect d’Art,” which is here used for the first time. (Guimard was a dedicated self-promoter, and in 1903 issued a set of picture postcards under the rubric Le Style Guimard.) The Maison Coilliot also contained Guimard’s first set of coordinated furnishings, which included pear wood furniture and two astonishing fireplaces. The Castel Henriette, built in Sèvres in 1899, is widely considered to be one of Guimard’s Art Nouveau masterpieces. Of all Guimard’s freestanding buildings, the Castel Henriette offered the most successful unification of two adjacent facades. Stone decoration provided a rustic touch suitable for a rural villa, and ornamental ironwork covered the windows and doorways, its calligraphic lines repeated in the iron fence. Guimard was obviously proud of the building: He devoted three postcards
plaster moldings, and wallpapers and other furnishings long since destroyed. Guimard’s determination to produce a total work of art was first realized in the interior decoration of the Castel Béranger. One of the building’s first tenants, painter Paul Signac, wrote in his journal This morning Guimard said something I find very appealing—that he hides as little as possible the identity of the building materials. Wood stays wood, etc.—and if for practical reasons one must cover them up, then one must preserve as much as possible the character of each material, at least apart from their colors, so as to avoid any sort of imitation, and thus, except in their colors, remain rational.
In its unity of design and truthful use of materials, the Castel Béranger largely fulfilled Guimard’s ambition to build for the modern age. Its expressive style also announced the arrival of Art Nouveau in French architecture.
from his 1903 Le Style Guimard set to the elegant and fanciful structure. Castel Henriette was demolished in 1969.
or most people, Guimard’s is best known for his contribution to a public-works project. Plans to build a subway in Paris had been discussed since 1886, as the French capital prepared to host the World’s Fair of 1889. Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opéra and president of the Société Centrale des Architectes voiced his concern over the appearance of the entranceways: The majority of Parisians will never forgive the Métro if it does not categorically renounce its industrial character in order to become a total work of art. Paris must not become a factory; it must remain a museum.
Garnier advised that materials such as stone, marble, and bronze be used, further embellished with sculpture and columns. The mechanical aspects of mass transportation should be hidden from view if Paris were to remain a world arbiter of style. Decisions about the Métro would not be made until the mid-1890s. At the end of 1895, the French State ended a fifteenyear debate over whom should build the Métro by conceding authority to the city of Paris. A competition for entranceway designs was announced in June 1899, and a panel of judges convened to choose the winning design in early August. The architects Henri Duray, Lamaresquier and Paumier were awarded the prize, but the Compagnie Générale du Métropolitain (CMP), a private contractor hired to build the subway, overturned the decision. Guimard, who had not entered the competition, was offered the commission by Adrien Bénard, president of the CMP, and accepted it. One hundred forty-one models of three entranceway types were installed throughout the city between 1900 and 1913. Guimard had devised a system of modular construction that enabled the cast iron elements of the stations to be quickly erected. Reactions to the entranceways were mixed: Some critics favorably recognized the originality of Guimard’s designs
Saint-Dizier Foundry Catalog, 1907 and coined the phrase le Style Metro to describe them. Others complained that the lettering on the signage, designed by Guimard, would confuse children and damage their handwriting. For posterity, Guimard’s Métro entranceways are inextricably linked to the World’s Fair of 1900, the year that Art Nouveau reached the apex of its developmental trajectory. Guimard had investigated the decorative potential of cast iron in the Castel Béranger, but the success of modular components in the Métro entranceways encouraged him to explore the creative potential of standardized ironwork. In 1907 he published a catalog of architectural ornaments and decorative objects produced by the Saint-Dizier foundry, which created most of his cast ironwork. Titled Fontes Artistiques Pour Constructions, Fumisterie, Articles de Jardins et Sepultures, the catalog displayed a dizzying array of objects in Le Style Guimard. The connective thread running through them is the expressive potential of the Art Nouveau line, of which Guimard was arguably the greatest practitioner. Wherever it is used, this line conveys the seemingly contradictory qualities of strength and suppleness. Although Guimard’s failed in his hope of mass producing ironwork to enliven buildings he had not designed, surviving examples of his cast ironwork convey the startling originality of Art Nouveau more effectively than any other objects of the period.
Exhibition photo couresy of Galerie Michel Giroud. Guimard’s commitment to Le Style Guimard lingered into the mid-1910s, and he continued to embellish his buildings with Art Nouveau architectural elements well into the 1920s. His marriage in 1909 to Adeline Oppenheim, daughter of an American banker, provided him with a level of financial security
he had failed to reach through his architectural practice. He immigrated to New York City in September 1938, and died there on May 20, 1942. The body of France’s greatest Art Nouveau architect-designer was interred in the city that was his final home yet had never felt the impact of his inimitable style.
H Hector Guimard: G
Architectural Elements photography by Yoni Ben-Yosef text by Claire Cass
Escutcheons from ParisMetro Painted Cast Iron Circa 1900-1950 H: 29 1/2 in W: 24 3/4 in. Guimard received the commission for the Paris Métro entranceways in January 1900, after the Compagnie du Métropolitain de Paris (CMP) rejected architects chosen by the Municipal Committee of Paris on August 10 and 11, 1899. The banker Adrien Bénard, president of the CMP, had commissioned a dining room ensemble by Alexandrier Charpentier, thereby demonstrating a taste for Art Nouveau that may have dictated his personal choice of Guimard to design the Métro entranceways. Guimard’s first sketches for the project were approved by the CMP in February of 1900. Guimard’s assignment was to design two types of édicule (shelter entranceways) and one type of exposed entranceway. It was the latter that was surrounded by railings decorated with escutcheons. These ornaments have achieved an iconic status since their creation and have even been memorialized on
a French postage stamp issued in 1994. The pioneering historian of Art Nouveau Stephan Tsuchudi Madsen has argued that the Métro escutcheon is a key example of the style’s neo-Baroque tendencies. Between 1900 and 1903, the Val d’Osne foundry cast prototypes of the Métro’s modular parts. Beginning in 1903, the Saint-Dizier foundry took over this role. Numerous other foundries produced the thousands of pieces required to assemble the entranceways, so it is difficult to say with assurance which foundry made the present escutcheons. The availability of these objects can be explained by the demolition of Métro entranceways and replacement becasue of wear and tear. Escutcheons continued to be cast throughout the 1940s. Early examples are rare. Documentation on the Paris Métro and its component parts is copious, and beyond the scope of this description.
Window Grill Painted Cast Iron Circa 1907
H: 36 in. W: 46 3/4 in. Guimardâ€™s cast ironwork was initially designed for his buildings, which were conceived as total works of art. Beginning in 1903, the Saint-Dizier foundry produced prototypes of architectural ornaments for Guimardâ€™s use. Eventually the firm sold entire lines of Guimardâ€™s ironwork that Guimard hoped would be incorporated into the work of other architects. Guimard grasped the importance of art industries to the dissemination of his style and to his financial security. The present window grill resembles other known models in its use of columns ornamented with symmetrical branching forms of an almost foliate design. A similar ventilation grate can be found on a prefabricated townhouse designed by Guimard in 1921-22. The building still stands in the Square Jasmin in Paris. Its overall design is simple, and somewhat at odds with Art Nouveau ironwork. A 1935 catalog from the Saint-Dizier foundry includes designs by Guimard, suggesting that a market still existed for ironwork from an era when Art Nouveau briefly represented the modern style in France.
Documentation: Similar models are illustrated in Georges Vigne, Hector Guimard Architect Designer 1867-1942 (New York: 2003), 279, 350.
Window Grill from the Castel Henriette Wrought Iron Paris, 1899 H: 48 1/2 inches W: 45 1/2 inches Built in Lille for the widow Caroline Henriette Léopoldine Hefty, the Castel Henriette was Guimard’s final masterpiece from the nineteenth century and a stunning example of French Art Nouveau architecture. The use of masonry and timber contributed to the picturesque quality of the building, as did the complex roofline composed of terraces, chimneys, loggias and a tower. Guimard’s dramatic juxtaposition of the building’s angled volumes was balanced by the stylistic unity of the two façades. Wrought ironwork played a dominant role in the Castel Henriette’s ornamentation, having been shaped into balconies, window grills, and a fence that extended along one façade. Guimard’s use of wrought iron was consistent with the rustic nature of the building. The present window grill incorporates straight, curving and angular lines into a dynamic yet harmonious composition. Its swelling form covered one of the asymmetrical windows that endowed the façades with a restless, shifting composition that characterized Guimard’s mature Art Nouveau style. Castel Henriette was demolished in 1969, and only a small portion of its exterior décor was salvaged. Documentation: A similar, if simpler, wrought iron balcony from the Castel Henriette is illustrated in Musée d’Orsay, Catalogue sommaire illustrée des arts décoratifs (Paris: 1998), 121, no. OAO 561.
H: 7 1/2 in. W: 39 in. D: 11 in.
Manufactured by the Saint-Dizier foundry, these jardinières belong to a series of planters that Guimard designed as self-sufficient objects rather than elements of specific architectural commissions. In these pieces Guimard explored the plastic qualities of iron, a seemingly intractable material. The process of creating his cast ironwork began with beautifully realized sketches, in which Guimard elaborated in great detail all aspects of a design. He then created plaster models that the Saint-Dizier foundry used to create prototypes and moulds, from which multiples would later be manufactured. Like other cast iron planters by Guimard, the present jardinières convey dynamic movement despite their symmetrical forms and ornamentation. Stalk-like elements provide a linear framework for the décor, which features a curious eye-like slit and shifting volumes within the central panel. These evoke Guimard’s handling of materials like plaster and stone, where flat surfaces are animated by surges and depressions that bestow an organic quality to the décor.
Jardinieres Cast Iron Circa 1907
Bench Paited Cast Iron & Wood Circa 1907-1935 H: 35 1/2 in. W: 72 in. D: 23 in. Guimard designed a small group of cast iron benches that were manufactured by the Saint-Dizier foundry. The distinctive feature of these garden seats, some of which feature armrests, is their graceful forms. Guimard installed his benches in only two recorded instances: on the grounds of the Chalet Blanc de Sceux and in an unidentified exposition documented in a period photograph archived in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Nonetheless, benches were the most popular Guimard item sold by the Saint-Dizier foundry, which continued to manufacture them until at least 1935. The design of the present bench is simple yet elegant in a manner typical of Le Style Guimard. The curvaceous seat merges with the back and central struts to create a flowing composition. Ornamentation emerges from or within the structural elements of the form itself. The Art Nouveau line is sinuous and strong, and minimal yet expressive. Guimard’s intention to design a product for industrial manufacture in no way compromised his sensuous use of iron. Documentation: Fontes artistiques pour Construction, Fumisterie, Articles de Jardin et Sépulchres (Saint-Dizier: 1907), pl. 42; Fonderies de Bayard et Saint-Dizier, Fontes d’ornements pour Bâtiments (SaintDizier: 1935), part 4, p. 462, model GN; Musée d’Orsay, Catalogue sommaire illustré des arts décoratifs (Paris: 1988), 133, no. OAO 624.
Iron Fire Surround Cast Iron Circa 1907 H: 36 in. W: 39 in. In 1907 the Saint-Dizier foundry published Fontes Artistiques pour Constructions, Fumisterie, Jardins et Sépulchre, a catalog of cast iron objects based on plaster models by Guimard. Plates 61 and 62 are devoted to fireplaces, with marble surrounds manufactured by Devillers & Cie. The present fireplace interior is included in that publication. Guimard’s combination of cast iron and marble married the modern and the traditional. His use of cast iron furnishings stemmed from his dedication to modern materials of construction, and also presented an opportunity to create multiples that could be used in various settings. This aspect of Guimard’s ironwork reveals a clear economic as well as aesthetic sense of purpose. Documentation: Another example of this model is owned by the Musée d’Orsay, and bears the inventory number OAO 1445. It can be viewed on the museum’s web site at www.musee-orsay. fr/en/collections/index-of-works.htm.
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Fireplace & Chimney Piece from the Maison Coilliot Lave Emaillé 1898 Top part-- H: 26 3/4 in. W: 23 1/2 in. D: 10 3/4 in. Bottom legs-- H: 48 in. W: 18 3/4 in. D:23 3/4 in. Base lip-- W: 55in. Total height: 74 3/4 in. Guimard designed the Maison Coilliot for Louis Coilliot, who manufactured ceramic commodities such as tiles in Lille. The commission offered Guimard his first opportunity to design coordinated furnishings, which in this case included two monumental fireplaces fabricated from a variety of materials. The present fireplace is made of enameled stoneware, one of Coilliot’s specialties. He had invented a process of compressing reconstituted lava powder into molds similar to those used to cast bronze. Fired at very high temperatures, the extremely dense stoneware resembled lava blocks, and was in fact advertised as lave emaillé. Coilliot also invented the textured enamel that decorates the stoneware. The ceramic fireplace was originally nestled within an elaborate pear wood buffet, whose cabinets included stained glass windows. Stalk-like elements in the buffet endowed the ensemble with the linear dynamism that characterized Guimard’s work. Two of these branching wooden structures formed an arch beneath which stood the fireplace. This arch motif was reiterated in the central portion of the fireplace, while the small pillars that surmount the body echo the flat shelves that rested on top of the buffet. Taken in its entirely, the fireplace is a microcosmic example of Guimard’s overarching design philosophy, the creation of Gesamtkunstwerk. Although the Maison Coilliot still stands, most of its furnishings, including the present fireplace, were sold at auction in the early 1990s and early 2000s. Documentation: The Coilliot fireplace ensemble is illustrated in Georges Vigne, Hector Guimard, Architect Designer 1867-1942 (New York: 2003), 130.
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