Chair from the Humpert de Romans Concert Hall
Hector Guimard (1867-1942) has been widely acknowledged as the most important French architect-designer working in the Art Nouveau style. Yet arguably his importance and lasting significance as a creator lie in the fact that he developed the underlying principles of Art Nouveau into a highly expressive visual language that went beyond the popular stylistic extravagances usually associated with Art Nouveau in turn of-the-century France. Guimard's contemporaries in Nancy showed a sometimes slavish devotion to the motifs from nature that were their inspiration, and their Parisian counterparts adorned every surface with the flowing tresses of languid maidens, with poppies and dragonflies and elaborate arabesques. Guimard himself, on the other hand, went to the core of the Art Nouveau principle of a return to nature as a source of inspiration. He studied the lines, the flowing curves of plants, and devised an approach that might be characterized as an abstracted naturalism. In Guimard's work we do not recognize individual plants; his details are not replications of stems or petals or leaves. Instead, he takes the principle of organic growth as a sculptural phenomenon and adapts it to his ends as a designer working at every scale, from tabletop objects to entire buildings.
Guimard was an individualist. The forms and lines that he developed are a unique and distinctive creation. He was also an ambitious technical innovator and his best-known work, the celebrated entrances to the Paris Metro, are a reflection both of his formal inventiveness and of his determined exploration of the potential of materials. These anthropomorphic entrance structures are made in cast iron, and he has succeeded in creating an unprecedented sense of dynamism and fluidity in this traditionally stubborn medium.
If Guimard's Metro entrances are widely known - and the surviving examples are among the best-loved features of the Paris streets - less well known is the extraordinary building that was his most ambitious exercise in steel and iron, the Humbert de Romans Concert Hall of ca. 1901. This hall was the largest in Paris at that time and, like Victor Horta's similar in concept Maison du Peuple in Brussels of 1897-1899, deserves to be ranked as one of the major achievements of Art Nouveau. The vast auditorium was a fluid structure of wood-clad steel members, giving an impression of stems growing, flowing, spreading into a great canopy. The seats and many of the details such as balustrades were made in cast iron, the sculpted lines expressing the structure and exuding a sense of contained energy. The Concert Hall enjoyed only a short life and was demolished in 1905. The present chair is a remarkably rare surviving element from this ambitious and important project, all the more precious for being in its original condition, Guimard's signature abstract, linear embossed motifs still legible in the green upholstery.
Green-painted iron and wood, upholstered in stamped green leather
35 in. (89 cm) high
F. Lanier Graham, HECTOR GUIMARD, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970, pp. 16-17 (for photographs of the interior of the Humbert de Romans concert hall)
HECTOR GUIMARD: FONTES ARTISTIQUES, exh. cat., Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris, 1971, cat. nos. 1 and 2
Charlotte and Peter Fiell, 1000 CHAIRS, Cologne, 1997, p. 74
Philippe Thiebaut, GUIMARD, exh. cat., Musee d'Orsay, Paris, 1992, p. 234, nos. 27 and 28 (related designs)