Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hector Guimard Legacy. Part 2.

There’s not much known about Hector Guimard’s life, most of it remains a mystery beside that he was born in Lyon in 1867 and got his education at l’Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs and   L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

As soon as they’ve got their chances to study abroad aspiring  architects eagerly rushed to Italy to study antique ruins and classic marvels of Renaissance and Baroque without which the architectural education wouldn’t be considered complete.

When young Guimard won his bursary award he rushed as quickly in the opposite direction to Belgium, England and Scotland to study modern architecture and trends to see for himself the design experiments by young and talented architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Guimard had no intention to follow tradition, even at school he had a nickname of rebel. And while the tradition called to derive the inspiration from the past  Guimard felt another calling: modernity ideas, innovative materials and forms, metal and glass and for that matter the accessibility of elegant style and design. Influenced by the ideas of Viollet-le-Duc of finding the ideal forms for specific materials he was stepping on his path of architectural innovations.
  This is the entrance hall of Castel Beranger shot through the gate. It's a bit blurry as I had to zoom in on max and there wasn't enough light  but elaborate ironwork, floor tiles and stained glass are so beautiful. An art Nouveau masterpiece.

The Castel Beranger gate is an iconic masterpiece included in every Art Nouveau book.

Look at these calligraphic lines. There's no such thing as a small or unimportant detail  for Art Nouveau artist. Every stroke is meaningful even a grill on a side window.
A few dragons on a side and sleeping lions are pretty friendly non ferocious beasts.
To get a clean shot one should try in winter when trees aren't obstructing a view.

The side view of Castel Beranger apartment complex.  I'm wondering how does it look inside? 
Notice the stained glass in windows.
Pastel green, brick and stone texture, curvaceous lines.
The inner doorway to the enclosed courtyard. Looking through the gate.
This building won for Guimard a much deserved recognition which is proudly noted on the facade and signed by the architect.
Meeting Victor Horta, the most prominent Art Nouveau architect in Brussels, seeing his works, had the most powerful impact  on Hector Guimard’s own style and life time devotion to Art Nouveau diversity and flexibility.
By that time his masterpiece Castel Beranger, a three building apartment complex in Paris 16th Arrondissement was already under construction and Guimard reworked it to test his own ideas of complex outside/inside design, exterior/interior artistic connection. He designed wall panels, wall paper, mantels, furniture, lighting, window glass staining as well as ceramics and miscellaneous decorative artifacts up to the door handles to create the whole new experience for a modern dwelling. 

As an architect, engineer, designer and decorator striving for stylistic harmony he could successfully play any instrument, be a conductor and soloist in this creative orchestra. 
This work of 1895-1898 was highly praised and right after that Guimard got his Metro entrances commission in 1899 which made him immortal.
Hotel Guimard, 1909. In this house Hector Guimard and his wife Adeline lived  for almost 30 years. It could be Museum Guimard, but helas...
In 1909, at the age of 41, Gimard married Adeline Oppenheim, a New Yorker from a wealthy Jewish family, who studied painting in Paris. And they lived happily ever after in the Hotel Guimard, a wedding present built by Guimard on Mozart Avenue, the most unconventional house in the 16th Arrondissement. 

There were a few more prosperous years before WWI when Art Nouveau rapidly faded giving way to Art Deco and various Constructivism ideas.
The discrete initials HG above the ornamented door. Elegant wrought iron balconies.
Guimard tried to adapt taking on industrial projects. But by 1930s  he was out of vogue and his talents not in demand. 
In 1938 at the onset of anti-Semitism and WWII a couple fled to New York and settled at the Upper East side. In 1942 one of the most distinguished French architects Hector Guimard largely ignored and forgotten in his homeland died in New York.

Hotel Mezzara , 1911. Not open for the public but judging from books it has a fantastic hall on the ground floor with skylight ceiling and galleries. 

Balcony and door. Hotel Mezzara, 1911. 
Notice the details and surface textures.
After the war in 1949 his widow made all gracious efforts to donate Hotel Guimard to France to open a Guimard Museum in Paris as it was proudly done in Belgium where Victor Horta’s home became a museum in Brussels.
Regretfully her generosity wasn’t met positively and didn't find a support. Simply speaking the gift was refused and the house was sold and the interior was divided into apartments.
It’s an apartment building now available for rent.

Whatever could be removed  was auctioned and only a few things, including hand carved wood paneling and content of la salle a manger, ended up in Musee d’Orsay much later when his name was rediscovered. But reconstructed as a vignette it looks as a fragment of the beautiful wing which once belonged to an exotic and rich colored butterfly.
Otherwise the priceless collection and archives moved overseas.
The ensemble of each room and a house as a whole, the unification of all the elements of the building was very important for the architect’s vision and Madame Guimard devoted another 23 years of her life to commemorate the legacy of her great husband donating his work to various US museums and collections.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of Hector Guimard's legacy.
To be continued.
And have a wonderful weekend my dear friends.

*All images copyright Natalie Rapoport.


  1. Amazing building!Thanks for sharing!Love it so much!The photos of details are fantastic!Love!

  2. Extraordinary detail in all this, Natalie, which I doubt we fully appreciate these days when we don't think about the time and attention (and creativity) that was required nearly a century ago.

    To think that Guimard died in such obscurity.

    (On another note - my thanks again for that inclusion some time back. I'm just so swamped. I doubt I'll ever be able to respond appropriately and by forwarding/recommending others. But I so appreciate the mention.)

    1. You're very welcome BLW. Your Plate of Crazy is my daily read.
      And yes, you're right. The locals where much surprised seeing my attempts to catch a photo glimpse of the interior.
      Everything was thought of and handmade, not computer generated and laser cut.
      It still bears an artist's touch.

  3. Natalie your research put into your posts is wonderful thanks for sharing loved this architectural tour! thanks for the sweet comments on my blog....ladybugs indeed :)
    Carla x


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