Hector Guimard: Art Nouveau Pioneer in Paris

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Hector Guimard: Art Nouveau Pioneer in Paris
Hector Guimard is by far the best-known French Art Nouveau architect, whose work is easily recognized among other masters of the style. His signature work, the Paris Métro entrances, are classic examples of Art Nouveau, characterized by their elegant flowing lines, floral ornamentation, sacred geometric forms, and mythical symbolism. From the 1880s to World War I, Art Nouveau flourished in opposition to the rapid social and technological changes overtaking the world, introducing a new approach to the arts, free of the repetitive historicism that dominated much of 19th-century architecture, art and design.  Hector-Germain Guimard was born in Lyon in March 1867. His father was an orthopedist originally from Toucy, his mother a seamstress from Larajasse. He left home home at age 13 and found refuge under the roof of Apollonie Grivellé in the suburban 16th arrondissement of Paris. Showing artistic aptitude, Guimard was encouraged to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the national school for decorative arts, which he did two years later. Charles Genuys, head architect for Historic Monuments, and Eugene Train, municipal architect for the city of Paris, and the decorative artist, Victor-Marie-Charles Ruprich-Robert, were among his teachers. They introduced Guimard to the study of nature and the close relationship between decoration and structure. Genuys and Ruprich-Robert were both disciples of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, the first chief architect of Paris’s Historic Monuments. Photograph taken of Hector Guimard in 1907. (Smithsonian Institution – Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum). Photo © Wikipedia, public domain Viollet-le-Duc was in charge of restoring many medieval buildings that had either been damaged or fallen into disrepair over previous centuries. Sometimes he over-restored them to an idealized state which, in his mind, looked much better than the originals, among these such as Notre-Dame de Paris, and the medieval citadel of Carcassonne. He greatly admired the Gothic use of vaulted construction and dreamed about using the modern material of iron (first used in European construction in 1789), to achieve similar results. It was due to this lineage of teaching from Viollet-le-Duc, Genuys and Ruprich-Robert that Guimard developed his own love of exposed structure. Ruprich-Robert also taught Guimard the rudiments of art history, archaeology and botany.  In 1884 Guimard’s designs were awarded two silver and three bronze medals. The following year, he placed in every competition he entered, winning four bronze medals, five silver, and the school’s most prestigious award, the Prix Jay (the Grand Prix d’Architecture). He then enrolled in the architecture section of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, then the foremost architecture school in the world. Participating in a much more competitive environment than in his previous school, Guimard’s brilliance did not shine through quite as clearly. Nevertheless, he made friends with many of his fellow students, including Henri Sauvage (1873-1932), an architect and decorator who, like Guimard, would become one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau.  Villa Majorelle (1898) in Nancy by architect: Henri Sauvage. Photo © Liné1, Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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Lead photo credit : Gate of Castel Béranger. Photo © leKorbo.be, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.

Comments

  • Susan Heywood
    2020-11-18 05:48:31
    Susan Heywood
    Thank you very much for a fascinating article. The architectural legacy of Paris owes a considerable debt to Guimard whose pioneering style was consistent with his enlightened political views which you highlight so well.

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    • Sue Aran
      2020-11-22 07:06:32
      Sue Aran
      Hello Susan, Thank you for your kind words. I absolutely agree with you that Paris owes a great deal to the uniqueness of Guimard's talent. Kind regards, Sue Aran

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  • Lauren Golden
    2020-11-18 05:35:07
    Lauren Golden
    Hello Sue, I am also interested in a map of his buildings and other works in Paris! Merci

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    • Sue Aran
      2020-11-18 09:49:26
      Sue Aran
      Hello Lauren, I'm glad you liked to article on Guimard enough to want to find out more. Here are a fe links to get you started. Just copt them into your browser. Kind regards, Sue https://www.parisinsidersguide.com/hector-guimards-metro-entrances.html https://artnouveau.club/shop/paris-guimard-lavirotte-art-nouveau-tour/

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  • Julia Gray
    2020-11-14 05:04:03
    Julia Gray
    Is there a map available that shows where one can see his buildings? Or a possible tour?

    REPLY

    • Sue Aran
      2020-11-16 09:09:33
      Sue Aran
      Hello Julia, Thank you for writing. I have written directly to you with information about finding Hector Guimard's work. Bon chance! Sue

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