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Hector Guimard (French, 1867–1942)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

French architect, furniture designer and writer. After attending the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, in 1885 he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; he left four years later without a diploma, however, to work for a builder as both architect and site craftsman. The influence of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc is evident in his early works, particularly the Ecole du Sacré-Coeur (1895), in which the exposed cast-iron structure of V-shaped columns is an adaptation of a drawing taken from Viollet-le-Duc’s Entretiens sur l’architecture (1863–72). These early commissions, built in a picturesque and eclectic manner, culminated in the Castel Béranger block of flats, Paris, where his first use of the Art Nouveau style appeared in its decorative elements. He visited Brussels in 1895, where he met Victor Horta, whose Maison du Peuple was then under construction. After seeing Horta’s work Guimard made changes to the original neo-Gothic decorative elements of the Castel Béranger, introducing a colourful mixture of facing materials and organically derived embellishments, based on his belief that decoration is the more effective for being non-representational. Between 1899 and 1914 Guimard’s style matured to a full-blooded Art Nouveau, although he also continued his picturesque manner in suburban villas, such as the Castel Henriette (1899), Sèvres, and the chalet La Surprise (1903), Cabourg, in which boldly projecting eaves protect large areas of fenestration, and solid walls consist of random rubble and ornate half-timbering.

In 1896 Guimard entered the competition to design Paris Métro stations, failing to win but getting the job because the railway company’s president was attracted to the Art Nouveau style. He designed three types of station: a basic open one with steps and railings; another with enclosed and covered steps; and a third with complete pavilions. The first type, of which c. 90 survive, was fashioned in various forms, the most interesting of which consists of railings with decorated ‘shields’ incorporating the letter M and an iron arch over the entrance which supports an enamelled sign flanked by ‘stalks’ blossoming into lamps (e.g. Cité, 1898–1901; for illustration see Metro station). The second type, for example Abbesses in Montmartre, consists of an iron frame with decorated enamelled lava panels and translucent wired glass; a ‘butterfly’ glass roof, supported from a central girder, over-sails the enclosure. The third type, of which only Porte Dauphine survives, provides waiting-rooms and has an enclosure like the second type but with more ample entrance arches and a roof consisting of tiered pyramidal sections reminiscent of covered market structures. The stations, which were modular and conceived for mass-production, were in production until 1913. Together with the Humbert de Romans auditorium (1897–1901; destr. 1905), an enormous concert hall and chapel with elaborate decorations and fittings, they represented the most complete architectural expression of Art Nouveau in France.

During this period Guimard also designed a number of town houses and blocks of flats. At his own house, 122, Avenue Mozart, Paris, which he built and furnished after marrying the American painter Adeline Oppenheim (b ?1872) in 1909, he achieved a synthesis in its furnishings and décor which he was never to surpass (examples New York, MOMA). The first-floor plan, with its delightful relationship of two ovals, harks back to the French Rococo tradition. The Jassedé flats (1905) at 142 Avenue de Versailles, Paris, with their free but vigorous corner treatment, were also the occasion for Guimard to launch into the design of standardized cast-iron fittings, such as guttering and garden seats (examples Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), later advertised in a catalogue (Fontes artistiques, 1907) as standard and available to order. His work from 1919 to 1929 marked his decline as an architect and furniture designer. After World War I he found it difficult to associate himself with the new Rationalism, even though his housing projects were based on a standardized system of dry concrete block construction and prefabricated elements. The apartment block (1925) at 18 Rue Henri Heine, Paris, his best post-war work, became his own last home in Paris. He appears to have built nothing after 1929 and in 1939 he and his wife moved to New York.

Sherban Cantacuzino
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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