Whenever someone thinks of Paris or tries to imagine, a few hallmarks inevitably come up to the mind: Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Café, Metro. Then shortly come balconies, street lights, river banks and bridges, and then miscellaneous things that make Paris yours if only for a moment.
These familiar staples sketched in the memories, glimpsed in the corner of the vintage postcard, or blurred in the background of an old photo immediately whisper Pa-ris …
That’s the instant power of the image over the words.
If you've ever been to Paris you won't forget Metro, it's exotic jewel like entrances. I love the elegant inscription : Metropolitain, not a subway, sub or tube.
L'architecte d'art Hector Guimard is best of all known as the creator of Le Style Metro for those Parisian metro entrances built in 1900 for the World Fair.
Style Guimard made him immortal. He was one of the most prominent architects and the gate keeper of this highly influential and sharply declined Art Nouveau style flourished in France and throughout the world somewhat between 1895-1914. Not all of his masterpieces survived. Several were demolished in his life time like the beautiful concert hall Salle Humbert de Romans among others. Many metro entrances were removed much later. (One found a new home in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art in Washington as a sample of style, the other serves the purpose in Montreal metro station).
Strangely enough not much is known about his life. The only thing is certain: as much as he was a talented master devoted to a style he invented and developed along with Victor Horta in Belgium and a handful of other distinguished artists and architects , he probably wasn’t much of a promoter and businessman. In other words his networking as we call it today in finding wealthy clients capable to fully appreciate and support Guimard’s artistic aspirations wasn’t strong enough to bring him noteworthy commissions. He was too ahead of a time and though he rose to a much deserved glory after building Castel Beranger and winning the commission for metro entrances, he was fiercely criticized at the same time. Even the famous lettering of Metropolitain was much mocked for being too ornate, illegible and pretentious before it became recognized all over the world (needless to remind that Tour Eiffel also was ostracized at the very same time and called disgrace and a colossal monster. Nevertheless…)
What Guimard created was innovative indeed. He introduced public to five different kinds of modular entrances made of cast iron and glass. Some on narrow streets were given only ornate railing, some were more elaborate with glass canopy, called dragonfly wings, as on Place d’Abbesses, the other looked as a small and elegant pavilion like the one on Porte Dauphine station. Most of them with distinctive flower stems arched over Metropolitain signature. Once the elaborate floral motives were masterfully designed they were easy to reproduce.
New materials and cost effectiveness along with a progressively modern look and elegant artistism won over heavy baroque-style tradition proposed by Charles Garnier the president of the Architects Society at the time, who envisioned mini Grand Opera at every metro entrance.
Hector Guimard unknowingly autographed every corner and square of his beloved city. And for over the hundred years his signage welcomes you to Paris…
To be continued...
*All images Copyright Natalie Rapoport