France Modern Architecture and Sculpture

France Modern Architecture and Sculpture

Sculpture followed the path of painting with some delay. The academic school lasted longer there with the gracious J. Pradier and his rivals A.-A. Préault, É.-H. Maindron. But the two great artists of the time were the Burgundian François Rude, author of the epic bas-relief of the Arc de Triomphe (1845), and the mighty A.-L. Barye (v.), Modeler of splendid animals. With the Ugolino by J.-B. Carpeaux (v.; 1861) integral naturalism appears in French sculpture. His group of the Dance (1869), on the facade of the Opéra, caused a scandal. But A. Rodin (v.), Who made his debut in 1864, had to surpass the glory of Carpeaux: with the Bronze Age (1878) and the San Giovanni Battista (1882) began a life of battles, from which a triumphant old age was to emerge, surrounded by a fame that no artist had known since Canova. His fame seemed to cast all the contemporary glories in the shadows, those of the delicate neo-Florentines (Paul Dubois, Antoine Mercié), that of vigorous masters such as J. Dalou (v.) And E. Frémiet (v.). As long as he lived, there was only room for him; only after his death it was noticed that he had not been able to complete any of the monuments he had begun and left nothing but noble ruins. A reaction was to follow against the methods that had misled him: it manifested itself with the Heracles (1907) and the Centaur (1912) of Antoine Bourdelle. But the monuments of Bourdelle himself (Alvear, 1924; Mickiewicz, 1929) do not escape criticism. Greater taste, purer feeling, more natural atticism are found in the works of Aristide Maillol, while a Charles Despiau (v.) Effortlessly rediscovers the French beauty of 13th century statues.

According to, architecture is the art that has suffered most from Romanticism. The archeology caused serious damage. Loaded with history and memories, artists forget for a long time what it means to create: their works were nothing but a hundred styles of the past. The fashion of the Middle Ages first led them to an unfortunate imitation of Gothic monuments. Some stopped at the Renaissance (church of the Trinity, by Th. Ballu; Paiva palace; buildings in the Monceau park). At the same time, with the first industrial constructions, iron architecture was born (Ponte delle arti, 1810; Grand gallery of the Louvre, by Ch. Percier, 1809). Le Halles by L.-P. Baltard (1859) and the great hall by HP Br. Labrouste in the National Library (1875) are capital works of this new system, such as the North Station of J.-I. Hittorff. Among the major enterprises of the century. XIX in France was the transformation of Paris carried out on projects of Baron E.-G. Haussmann. Unfortunately, those projects concerned road movement and commerce more than art; nevertheless to them we owe the modern aspect of Paris, the arrangement of the woods of Boulogne and Vincennes, of the parks of Monceau, Montsouris and the Buttes-Chaumont. The completion of the Louvre, which has been under construction for three centuries, is linked to those works. The only new monument of the first order was the Opéra by Charles Garnier (1860-73), a pompous and composite building, a luxury for the new rich, like the company it represents; however, the ingenuity of the plant and composition cannot be contested. With the cathedral of Marseille, by L. Vaudoyer, with those of Algiers and Oran, with the church of Sant’Agostino, del Baltard, and especially with the basilicas of Fourvière, Notre-Dame de la Garde and the Sacred Heart, religious architecture made great efforts. But all these works hesitate between two styles of other times, Byzantine or Romanesque, and none is worth the charming church of Montrouge, by J.-A.-É. Vaudremer. At the turn of the century it was possible to believe in the triumph of the engineer over the architect in the face of the works of the Eiffel, such as the Garabit bridge and the three-hundred-meter tower: and the consequence of that error was the Grand-Palais of the Champs Élisées (1900).

The architecture perished due to the banality of the decoration. Genius intellects (É. Gallée, Chaplet, R. Lalique), glassmakers, figurines, jewelers, meanwhile invented a new ingenious decorative art, which was known around 1900, under the name of “new art” or “modern style”. It produced exquisite trinkets, but not a real piece of furniture, much less a facade.

Art needed a cure, a Lent of ornaments: one had to learn to build again before decorating. A new material, reinforced concrete, offered a new field to experience. A great artist, Auguste Perret, took possession of it. His Theater of the Champs Élisées (1912), of such simple and so powerful lines, was the manifesto of the new school. The church of Notre-Dame du Raincy, by the same author (1923), is undoubtedly its most brilliant expression until today: the immense perforated building, obtained with the most modern methods, equals the extreme Gothic daring. The language there is modern, the spirit is that of the Sainte-Chapelle.

The contemporaries. After 1900 independent painting continued in the bizarre intellectual adventure that began with the experiences of Impressionism. It is difficult to trace such a complex story in a few lines. In the generation of the elderly, two important teachers, Maurice Denis and G. Desvallières represent, albeit with different talent, the great tradition of the Church and of humanism. Their peers, Vuillard, P. Bonnard, are refined followers of Degas, of Renoir. Albert Marquet, XK Roussel, exquisite landscape painters, know how to put something of the music of a Debussy into their canvases.

But for thirty years painting has been above all moved, almost disturbed by Henry Matisse and the Spaniard Picasso: two prodigiously intelligent men who have launched, lavished and worn out more formulas than any other master. Gauguin, in his contempt for naturalism and in his passion for the simple and primitive arts, had already risen to the Breton calvarî, to the Maori idols. The taste for stylization spread the fashion of black art towards 1905. From abstraction to abstraction, painting in a few years retraced the path traveled through the centuries, from the times of the caves to the desiccation, signs and patterns of geometric art. It was the era of Cubism, which raged from 1910 until around 1920, and which will leave at least one decorative art (fabrics,

After this singular crisis, a new academicism appeared in some young artists, sometimes inspired by David (André Lhôte, Depas, J. Despuiols, Poughéon). Others, such as Bonhomme, G. Rouault, M. Gromaire, continue the Fauvisme and attach themselves to the Daumier or to the expressionism of the stained glass painters. All these different movements, this freedom to dare, make Paris a favorite center, a meeting place for foreign artists, who feel an intoxication, a spiritual exaltation, an electric atmosphere. Thus one can meet the Italians Modigliani and G. De Chirico alongside the Poles Zak and E. Kissling and especially a large number of Russians such as Pascin and Marc Chagall.

It is not easy to say which choice will make the future in such chaos. Nevertheless, it seems that on the whole the French youth, distrustful of theories and useless ambitions, are content today to go back to learning to paint with conscience. Certain landscapes by M. Utrillo or by Waroquier, who often visited Italy, certain figures by Othon Friesz, Segonzac, LA Moreau, certain familiar scenes by Jean Marchand or M. Asselin are strong and calm, clear and harmonious works, which are grafted with honor into the great tradition of Cézanne and Chardin.

France Modern Architecture and Sculpture