Visitors and residents alike regularly post photos of the stunning (and scary !) building at 29, avenue Rapp, with its ornate Art Nouveau façade. And Hector Guimard’s noodle-like metro entrances hardly need an introduction.
Nouveau or Deco ?
But no less impressive are the city’s examples of Art Deco architecture, with its repeated geometric patterns. Emblematic buildings like the former Samaritaine department store facing the Seine, or the Folies Bergère, which you can see on my new Bouillon tour, represent well the Jazz Age aesthetic.
So when I started doing some research on the history of my well-loved local cinema next to the place Gambetta, I was surprised to see in a Wikipedia article that “Le bâtiment a été construit par l’architecte Henri Sauvage dans le style Art Nouveau.”
An almost religious experience
What ? Anyone even mildly interested in art history can take one look at the cinema’s symmetrical façade and stylized (not naturalistic) palm-leaf patterns and think, “That’s clearly Art Deco.” The Gambetta Palace, as the cinema was first known, was built in place of a former theater by Henri Sauvage in 1920.
Sure, Sauvage was best-known for his Art Nouveau creations, like the house he built for Louis Majorelle in Nancy. Some years ago, I traveled to Nancy, and visiting the Villa Majorelle was a spiritual, almost religious, experience – the photo you see here is just a detail of the entrance ! And Sauvage’s connections to the Art Nouveau giant Hector Guimard are well-documented. But, as this web site tells us, Sauvage was “an eclectic artist, and took delight in confounding those who wanted to easily classify his work.”
Don’t hide the structural elements
In 1903, well before the Gambetta Palace cinema, Sauvage began building an audacious new style of construction, one example of which is in the rue de Trétaigne (18th district). The geometric lines of this building are easily recognized nowadays as fully representative of Art Deco, even if the name of this aesthetic style didn’t come along until 1925, the year the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs took place in Paris.
A pioneer of the Art Deco style, along with Auguste Perret, Sauvage used reinforced concrete to decorative effect. Not satisfied with hiding the structural elements behind an old-fashioned façade, the concrete is clearly an architectural feature.
“Iron is not syphilis !”
Another of Sauvage’s friends, Frantz Jourdain, with whom he collaborated on the Samaritaine buildings, was also a proponent of exposing “controversial” new building materials, despite public criticism. Back in 1889, Gustave Eiffel’s famous tower met with fierce outcry for its use of iron. So when Jourdain used iron for his portions of the Samaritaine building between 1903 and 1910, he anticipated the outrage and told critics, “Men, let me tell you, iron is NOT syphilis !”
Glass and iron were new materials, sure, but they were also “clean” materials. The then-fashionable trend of hygienism – established under Baron Haussmann in the 1850s – meant that newer residential buildings had larger windows, letting in more air and light to promote the health of their occupants.
Jean-Paul Gaultier bikini
In 1907, Sauvage built one of several HBMs, or Habitations à Bon Marché, just steps away from where he’d build the cinema several years later. Literally translated, this “good deal housing” should not be confused with the current Parisian department store Le Bon Marché. Although I once found a too-sexy-for-me Jean-Paul Gaultier bikini on sale, in general there aren’t too many good deals there !
Sauvage abandoned the Art Nouveau style once and for all in 1909, according to this source. With the HBM and his other buildings, Sauvage’s modernist style had a lasting impact throughout Paris, and are found in at least seven different districts of the city. His aesthetic evolution from the sinewy lines of Art Nouveau to the clean modernism of Art Deco would set the stage for future architects, like Robert Mallet-Stevens and Le Corbusier.
Le théâtre des Folies-Bergère © Architecture Art Deco
7, rue de Trétaigne © JM Renard
Are you interested in art history AND food history ? Check out my NEW Bouillon tour, which features Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and the fascinating history of Parisian restaurants. Click here for more information !