Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Paris: Art nouveau and Modernist architecture

View from the Palais de Chaillot towards the Eiffel Tower

I had planned an art deco walk for today to complement the art nouveau one we did last March. My research led me to a modernism walk produced by Time Out and I decided to use it as a point of departure.

As with the art nouveau walk we started in the 16th arrondissement, this time at metro Jasmin, and walked down Avenue Mozart to revisit, at number 22, the house built for himself by the great art nouveau architect Hector Guimard.

We then retraced our steps to go up rue Henri Heine and tune left into rue du Docteur Blanche to find down an alley on the left the Fondation Le Corbusier. This occupies a pair of villas designed by him and Pierre Jeanneret in 1923. The contrast with the curves of Guimard's house could hardly be more stark.

You have to knock to gain entrance and we had the place almost to ourselves. Inside the most striking thing is the way spaces flow into each other. It is also more colourful than one might expect.

We doubled back along rue du Docteur Blanche to find rue Mallet-Stevens on the right. This is a small cul-de-sac with six houses designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens - it seems unusual to name the street after the architect.  However, "Along with Le Corbusier he is widely regarded as the most influential figure in French architecture in the period between the two World Wars" (Wikipedia - so perhaps not quite so surprising).  Although the houses are mostly tall, the overall feeling is quite intimate.

We headed down rue de L'Assomption to rejoin rue Mozart and head towards Passy where we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the art deco La Roronda de la Muette restaurant. We then found our way to rue Raynouard where numbers 51-55 are celebrated works by Auguste Perret. They were built from reinforced concrete tinted to look like stone. Celebrated maybe, but also hard to like.

Across Place de Costa Rica and into rue Benjamin-Franklin where another block had more classic and pleasing art deco details and strong vertical emphasis.

We then reached the back of the extraordinary Palais de Chaillot, here seen from the bottom of the Trocadero gardens by the river Seine.

It is classical revival architecture on a massive scale and was designed by Leon Azema, Louis-Hippolyte Boileau and Jacques Carlu for the Exposition Universelle of 1937. In the plaza between the two wings there are some rather lovely gold statutes, four of which can be seen in the picture at the head of this post. The terrace overlooking the Trocadero is perhaps the best place in Paris to see and photograph the Eiffel Tower.

Just along Avenue President Wilson is the smaller, but equally eye-popping Palais de Tokyo, also built for the 1937 Exposition. Until 2002 it seems to have been something of a white elephant, but is now a successful location for art exhibitions.

At the of Avenue President Wilson, we crossed Place de L'Alma to find Perret's Theatre des Champs Elysses in Avenue Montaigne. It opened in 1913 and is again constructed in reinforced concrete, although this reflected the quality of the subsoil and the proximity to the Seine, rather than solely Perret's apparent preference for this material.

It is plain and quite austere, with the facade brighted by areas of gold paint and the lovely bas reliefs  by Antoine Bourdelles. Inside, art deco stylistic features are more to the fore (it proved to be possible to just wander in and have a look at the lobby).

Conditions: quite bright, but cool (6 degrees).

Distance: about 3.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. Very interesting and illuminating, but not much to love.


I had hoped to conclude this walk with a trip to see the incredible Louxor Cinema (170 Boulevard de Magenta, right by Barbes-Rochechouart metro station), but we did not have time. So we went there first thing the next morning and what a fantastic building it is.

It dates from 1921 and is still going as a palace of cinema. This is the area under the main awning.

And this is a detail of the mosaic on the columns of the foyer.

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