Your first glimpse of Art Nouveau buildings in Paris comes when you approach the Metro stations designed by Hector Guimard. You know the ones: They look like spring flowers or are fashioned like an elegant fan-shaped canopy of glass, like the Porte Dauphine station. In the early 1890s, the Art Nouveau movement moved through Paris burning with passion. By 1905, that flame had all but gone out, after a few short, but extraordinary, years of freedom, extravagance, imagination, and beauty. Art Nouveau was a “total” art style, and one that still survives today in the decorative dining rooms of restaurants like Maxim’s or Lucas Carton, gravestones in Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the facades of shops like Félix Potin. The art is seen in the architecture of prolific designers like Guimard and Jules Lavirotte that still remains around Paris.
Architectural Ramblings in Art Nouveau Paris
When you take an Art Nouveau walk in Paris, it’s best to start with the work of Lavirotte at 34, avenue de Wagram in the 8th arrondissement, where the curvaceous forms of the Ceramic Hôtel are lovingly adorned with throngs of sculpted flowers bursting from sandstone vases. Next, you head south to the 16th arrondissement and 59, rue Raymond Poincaré. At the Pauilhac Mansion, designed by Guimard, you admire the cast-iron baskets decorated with fir cones cradling the ground-floor windows. Mythical beasts intertwined with extraordinary flowers surround the front door. Then, as if by magic, you are transported to the Immeuble des Chardons on the corner of rue Eugène-Manuel and rue Claude-Chahu. You can’t help but let your eyes follow the thistles and their turquoise and purple ceramic leaves as they climb the building across the splendidly sun-kissed ochre facade of architect Charles Klein‘s apartment building.
The Fanciful Excesses of Art Nouveau
A little further away, at 122, avenue Mozart, you get another taste of Hector Guimard’s designs in the place he called home. There’s not a straight line in sight. There are only turrets, a facade that sticks its chest out with pride, and picture windows that are rounded like the bow of a ship. Only 100 meters away, Guimard’s creativity is evident all along rue Jean de la Fontaine, at No. 85, in the Hôtel Mezzara, at No. 60, and in the row of Art Nouveau buildings which have all but taken over rue Agar too. But one of the greatest Art Nouveau buildings in Paris is at No. 14, rue Jean de la Fontaine. The Castel Béranger apartment building practically cries out: “Look at me!” The building is highlighted with interlaced green cast-iron, masses of alcove windows communing with the sky, and turrets and balconies suspended above the void.
Your Art Nouveau Journey Continues
At this point your head must spinning from so much beauty. But there’s still more to see, as you make for the 7th arrondissement and 29, avenue Rapp where another Jules Lavirotte building awaits. You can’t help but notice the woman’s face over the front door. On either side, a naked man and woman appear to be mocking her good-as-gold expression. You lift our gaze to each successive floor, taking in every fanciful detail. There is a profusion of colors, sculptures, and windows, like souls at peace, each telling you a story. A hundred meters further along, at 12, rue Sédillot, your Art Nouveau ramblings around Paris reach their end with the mansion that Lavirotte designed for the Countess of Monttessuy. It is, perhaps, a more sober view of Art Nouveau, but it’s no less spectacular for that.