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Rise of the Modern City

Discover the ways in which artists and architects engaged with the landscape of modern cities.

Entrance Gate to Paris Subway (Métropolitain) Station, Paris, France

Hector Guimard
(French, 1867–1942)

1905. Painted cast iron, glazed lava, and glass, 13' 11" x 17' 10" x 32" (424.2 x 543.6 x 81.3 cm) Each vertical stanchion: 1040 lbs. Horizontal component: 460 lbs. Glazed lava sign: 100 lbs.

To help make the newly constructed Paris Métro subway system and the mode of transportation it introduced appealing to Parisians, the Compagnie du Métropolitain (which managed the Métro) launched a design competition for the system’s entrance gates. Parisian architect and designer Hector Guimard won, with his vision for gates shaped like sinuous tropical flowers. Slender, curvilinear components evoke vines and tendrils, which seem to grow up and out of the two anchoring stems to hold the Métro sign and help position the illuminating floral lights.

Guimard’s gate design typifies the Art Nouveau style, which emerged in France and Belgium in the late 19th century and was characterized by its references to nature and organic forms. Much like subway travel itself, Art Nouveau was unfamiliar to most Parisians, who responded hesitantly at first to this novel visual vocabulary. Installed throughout the city, the gates soon brought Art Nouveau into the realm of popular culture. In their merging of design, architecture, urbanism, and advertisement, Guimard’s gates exemplify the modern spirit.

The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.

A person who conceives and gives form to objects used in everyday life.

Having characteristics of a biological entity, or organism, or developing in the manner of a living thing.

The shape or structure of an object.

An international, middle-class artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that emphasized the unity of the arts and sought to reflect the intensive psychic and sensory stimuli of the modern city. Although it influenced painting and sculpture, the movement’s chief manifestations were in design, performance art, and architecture. Variants in cities throughout Europe and the US accrued labels such as Arte Nova, Glasgow Style, Stile Liberty, and Arte Modernista. The version commonly referred to as Art Nouveau flourished in France and Belgium and was characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical lines based on organic forms. Its more rectilinear counterpart, called Jugendstil or Secession style, flourished concurrently in Germany and Central Europe.