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Hector Guimard

     
     

Designed in 1899, the Porte Dauphine station exhibits Guimard's only surviving enclosed edicule of the Paris Métro.
Hector Guimard (Lyon, March 10, 1867 - New York, May 20, 1942) was an architect, who is widely considered today to be the most prominent representative of artists and architects who worked in the Art Nouveau style in France at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

Within the international context of Art Nouveau, Guimard appears as an isolated sniper: he leaves no disciple behind him, nor any school, and this explains why history was for a long time tempted to regard him as a secondary player in this movement – an absence of posterity which contrasts with the extraordinary formal and typological profusion of his architectural and decorative work, where the architect gave the best of himself in a relatively short fifteen years of amazing creative activity.

Years of study

Jassedé building (1903): staircase detail
Jassedé building (1903): staircase detail

The sign of the Coilliot house in Lille (1898)

The sign of the Coilliot house in Lille (1898)

As of his studies of architecture, Guimard, like many other French nineteenth-century architects, matriculated to the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he became acquainted with the theories of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. These rationalist ideas provided the foundations, since 1863, of the future structural principles of Art Nouveau. The Guimard conversion to the style itself is as for it more sudden: it is done during a trip to Brussels, where he visits the Tassel hotel of Victor Horta. The characteristic realization of this time, the Castel Béranger [1] (1898), illustrates this moment of transition which sees the shock between these two heritages : on the medieval inspirated geometrical volumes of the carcass work spreads with profusion the organic line « in blow of whip » [2] imported of Belgium.

A flashing glory

The gate of the Castel Béranger (1898)

The gate of the Castel Béranger (1898)

The entry corridor of the Jassedé building (1903)

The entry corridor of the Jassedé building (1903)

The Castel Béranger makes Guimard famous of the day at the following day and many orders then enable him to continue his aesthetic research always more – the stylistic harmony and continuity in particular (a major ideal of Art Nouveau), which push him towards a quasi totalitarian design of the interior decoration, culminating in 1909 with the hotel Guimard [3] (gift of wedding to his rich American wife) where ovoid rooms [4] impose unique pieces of furniture, integral part of the building.

If the well of light suitable for Victor Horta is a data rather absent of his work (except in the late example of the Mezzara hotel [5], in 1910), Guimard undertakes astonishing space experiments however, in the volumetry of his constructions in particular : the Coilliot house [6] and its disconcerting double-frontage (1898), La Bluette [7] and its beautiful volumetric harmony (1898), and especially the Castel Henriette [8] (1899) and the Castel d’Orgeval [9] (1905), radical demonstrations of a vigorous and asymmetrical "free plan", twenty-five years before the theories of Le Corbusier. Symmetry is however not proscribed : the splendid Nozal hotel [10], in 1905, uses the rational disposition of a plan in square proposed by Viollet-le-Duc.

Hector Guimard - A stained glass in the Castel Béranger - 1898

Hector Guimard - A stained glass in the Castel Béranger - 1898

Entourage of Port-Royal station (1900)

Entourage of Port-Royal station (1900)

The structural innovations do not miss either, as in the extraordinary concert hall Humbert-de-Romans [11] (1901), where a complex frame splits the sound waves to lead to perfect acoustics ; or as in the Hôtel Guimard (1909), where the narrowness of the ground makes it possible to the architect to reject any carrying function on the external walls and thus to release the interior spaces arrangement, different from one floor to another [12] ; etc.

Curious and inventive spirit, Guimard is also a precursor of the industrial standardization, insofar as he wishes to diffuse the new art on a large scale. In this field he knows a real success – in spite of the scandals – with his famous entries of the Parisian Subway [13], flexible constructions where triumph the structural ornament principle of Viollet-le-Duc. The idea is taken up – but with less success – in 1907 with a catalogue of cast iron elements applicable to buildings : Artistic Cast Iron, Guimard Style [14].
The entryway to Guimard's house (1909)
The entryway to Guimard's house (1909)
As for the global architectural space, the intrinsic design of his art objects proceed of the same ideal of formal continuity (which makes it possible to amalgamate all the practical functions in a single body, as with the Vase des Binelles [15], of 1903) and linear design, as in the drawing of its pieces of furniture [16], harmonious and lightly silhouetted.

His inimitable stylistic vocabulary proceeds of a particularly suggestive vegetable organicism, while remaining resolutely on the slope of abstraction. Flexible mouldings and nervous movements invest stone as well as wood ; in the two dimensions, Guimard creates true abstract compositions which adapt with same ease to stained glass [17] (Mezzara hotel, 1910), to ceramics panel [18] (Coilliot house, 1898), to wrought iron [19] (Castel Henriette, 1899), to wallpaper [20] (Castel Béranger, 1898) or to fabric [21] (Guimard hotel, 1909).

Oblivion

Entry corridor of the Coilliot house (1898)

Entry corridor of the Coilliot house (1898)

But in spite of the fireworks of innovations and various demonstrations, the press and the public quickly grew tired of Guimard--not so much with his work, but his personality. While his relationship with the clergyman who commissioned him to build the Humbert de Romans Concert Hall (arguably his most complete expression of his Art Nouveau style) blossomed from their first meeting in 1898, by the time of its completion in 1901 it had soured completely and Guimard's patron had left France. Within five years the magnificent concert venue was demolished; it is now only know through photographs and articles from art journals.

As a worthy representant of Art Nouveau, Guimard's work is itself victim of inherent contradictions of the ideals of the movement: his most completed creations remained financially inaccessible to the greatest number, and on the contrary his attempts at standardization of materials, parts, and measures never could keep pace with his very personal architectural vocabulary. Guimard was completely forgotten when he died in New York in 1942, where the fear of war and anti-Semitism (his wife was Jewish) had forced him into exile.

The rediscovery

Entrance to the Jassedé building (1903)

Entrance to the Jassedé building (1903)

Afterwards too many destructions, any isolated explorers (the first "hectorologists") go to the rediscovery of the artist and his universe about the years 1960-1970 and reconstitute its history patiently. If the major part is done in this field, the fact is that, hundred years after the « magnificent gesture » of Art Nouveau (Le Corbusier), the majority of the buildings of Hector Guimard remain inaccessible to the public, and that a Guimard Museum is still not inaugurated in France.

Wrought iron on the door of the Coilliot house (1898)
Wrought iron on the door of the Coilliot house (1898)

Timeline
1882 Guimard enters the École des Arts Décoratifs at Paris with Charles Genuys as his teacher. 
1885 Guimard begins studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. 
1889 Guimard designs the Pavilion of Electricity at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. 
1891 Guimard becomes professor at the École des Arts Décoratifs. He remains there until 1900. 
1891 Designs the Hôtel Roszé (rue Boileau, 16th arrondissement of Paris) 
1894 Designs the Hôtel Jassedé (rue Chardon-Lagache), Hôtel Delfau (rue Molitor), and the funerary chapel of Devos-Logie and Mirand-Devos in the cimetière des Gonards at Versailles. Guimard first meets Belgian Art Nouveau architect Paul Hankar. 
1895 Builds the Atelier Carpeaux (boulevard Exelmans, Paris), and the École du Sacré Cœur. First meets Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. Beginning of construction on the Castel Béranger (rue La-Fontaine, Paris). 
1896 La Hublotière au Vésinet.([22]) 
1897 Guimard moves into an apartment building. 
1898 Completion of the Castel Béranger which is dubbed "dérangé" by comtemporaries. 
1899 Villa Bluette (Hermanville, Calvados); Café Au grand Neptune (quai d'Auteuil, 16th arrondissement de Paris). 

Detail of the edicule at the Porte Dauphine Métro station.
Detail of the edicule at the Porte Dauphine Métro station.

1900 Maison Coilliot (14, rue Fleurus, Lille); construction of the edicules and buildings of the stations of the Métropolitain in Paris. 
1901 Salle Humbert-de-Romans (Paris); Castel Henriette (rue des Binelles, Sèvres, Hauts-de-Seine). 
1903 Castel Val (4, rue des Meulières, Auvers-sur-Oise); Villa La Sapinière (Hermanville). 
1904 Castel Orgeval at Villemoisson-sur-Orge; Hôtel Léon Nozal (16th arrondissement of Paris); Chalet Blanc (2, rue du Lycée, Sceaux); Castel Orgeval (2 avenue de la Mare-Tambour, Villemoisson-sur-Orge). 
1905 Hôtel Deron Levet, Chalet Blanc (Sceaux). 
1909 Immeuble Trémois, rue Agar; Guimard marries Adeline Oppenheim and they move into the Hôtel Guimard on a triangular lot on the Rue Mozart, Paris. 
1910 Hôtel Mezzara (60, rue La Fontaine, 16th arrondissement de Paris) 
1913 Synagogue de la rue Pavée à Paris (10, rue Pavée, in the 4th arrondissement de Paris); Villa Hemsy (3, rue Crillon, Saint-Cloud). 
1924 Villa Flore (avenue Mozart, 16th arrondissement de Paris). 
1926 Apartment building (rue Henri Heine, Paris). 
1928 Apartment building (rue Greuze, Paris)--this is widely believed to be Guimard's last work as an architect. 
1938 Guimard and his wife move to New York.

  • LE CERCLE GUIMARD - The association for the protection and the promotion of the works of Hector Guimard
  • lartnouveau.com - The work of Hector Guimard in Paris and in France