One of the most famous representatives of the French Art Nouveau movement of architecture, Hector Guimard was born in Lyon in 1867. His designs and constructions at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries are today widely recognized and admired around the world. It wasn’t always so however, the memory of Guimard was nearly erased at the time of his death – only to be again recognized and celebrated from the 1960s until today.
Born in Lyon in 1867, Guimard did what many other architects of his time did – he attended the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was there he learned about the theories of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc – the very theories that would later come to inspire the foundation of French Art Nouveau.
You can see the Viollet-le-Duc influence in Guimard’s 1898 design of the Castel Béranger. The design clearly shows a mix between medieval influences and new geometrical volumes.
The Castel Béranger was also one of the first Art Noveau buildings to appear outside of Belguim, prior to Guimard the only home to this style. They say that you can see the Art Noveau on everything in this design – from the gates of Castel Béranger to the design of the interiors or the use of art as the decoration on the outside of the building.
Following the Castel Béranger, Guimard was a celebrity among Parisian architects and got a lot of work. He stayed true to his Art Noveau style – and the high point of his achievements was perhaps the Hotel Guimard (1909) where he also designed the interior décor as a wedding gift to his American wife. The interior décor of the Hotel Guimard is considered part of the building itself and many of the furniture pieces are entirely unique.
Guimard is known for being an innovative and curious personality, but at the same time he was pioneer when it came to all things industrial and standardized – he wanted his art and architecture to be more widely seen and experienced. Perhaps his greatest achievement in this realm is his work on the Paris Metro entranceways. For these, he was very inspired by the vivid designs by Viollet-le-Duc.
It is important to remember however, that while Guimard may be recognized today – the audience of his own era tired of him quite quickly. Most of his architectural work was simply not accessible for the general public (for financial reasons) and while his Paris Metro entranceways were a success all his desires to make his work and use of materials standardized, these could never keep up with his very distinct personal style of design and construction.
Guimard fled to New York in 1938 (his wife was Jewish and there was a great fear of war and anti-Semitism) and when he died there in 1942 – the general public had erased him from memory. Lucky for us, many scholars and experts have since resurrected his memory and legacy as one of the greatest and most magnificent within the Art Nouveau movement.