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French Renaissance - Modern Architecture

( Originally Published 1921 )

Modern French architects, although assertive of their right to choose their own type of architecture, have, apart from certain sporadic outbursts, remained faithful to the Classical styles, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts has fostered a spirit of academic correctness in conformity with these precedents. Among the great buildings of the nineteenth century are the Arc de Triomphe, Paris (A.D. 1806) by Chalgrin ; the Library of S. Genevieve, Paris, with astylar facade (A.D. 184350) by Labrouste ; the Louvre, Paris, completed by Visconti (p. 637) ; the Hotel de Ville, Paris, rebuilt in its original early Renaissance style by Ballu and Deperthes (A.D. 1871), besides a host of buildings in the provinces. The majority of modern buildings are designed on traditional Renaissance lines, though some, as the Eglise du Sacre Coeur, Paris, are revivals of the Mediaeval style, while others show a daring departure from precedent, not wholly satisfactory, but probably representing only a passing national phase.

The Opera House, Paris (A.D. 186174) (p. 639), by Charles Garner, is probably the most important of all modern buildings in France. The magnificent facade (p. 639 A) well conforms to the idea of the sumptuous treatment suitable for a national opera house. The broad steps lead to the portico with piers bearing many symbolic figures of poetry, music, drama, and allied arts. The loggia has boldly projecting balconies and large monolithic coupled columns, the flanking pavilions being crowned with segmental pediments, while under the entablature are circular windows and portrait-busts. Above is an imposing attic storey sculptured with festoons and gilded masks, supporting flanking groups of music and poetry, while beyond is seen the low dome over the auditorium. The ornate treatment of the interior is indicated by the imposing Escalier d'Honneur (p. 639 B, c), which is decked out with ornamental newels, pierced balconies, sumptuous colonnades, and arching roof.

The Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille (A.D. 1892) (p. 640 A), by Berard, and Delmas, designed on traditional French lines, has a recessed central portion and projecting wings with a rusticated and arcaded basement supporting a Corinthian Order with segmental and triangular pediments, and the usual steep hipped roofs over the central block and side wings.

The Hotel, Rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris (p. 62g E), is a characteristic example of a Parisian town house, with central entrance forming a driving way into an inner courtyard, which gives light and air to the surrounding apartments. The treatment of the ground floor windows and entresol, the consoles carrying the wrought-iron balconies, and the simple yet effective treatment of the upper portion are typical of the French treatment of modern architecture.

The Petit Palais, Paris (A.D. 18971900) (p. 640 B), designed by Charles Girault, is amongst all modern buildings perhaps superior to those mentioned. Its beautifully balanced plan, graceful elevations, with their refined and novel treatment of the Order, and the abundant use made of the best modern sculpture, both in the facades and on the skyline, render this one of the most imposing and pleasing of all modern French buildings.

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