Iconic Metalwork in Paris
I spent the brief August heat wave in Paris, rediscovering the beauty and elegance of the city. I love the iconic Art Nouveau entrances of the Paris Metropolitain, designed at the turn of the last century by Hector Guimard (1867 – 1942). I realized as I circled these constructions in wonder, trying to get the best shots with my camera, that Parisians are in fact quite blase about this extraordinary street furniture – one young man asked me why I was so interested in something so mundane!
They are anything but mundane. All organic sweeping curves and intertwining tendrils, these eccentric constructions have a menacing beauty, like exotic carnivorous plants poised ready to draw you into their subterranean world, there to make a meal of you. How ever did they get these into production? How many different complicated shapes did they have to cast, with so much attention to detail? How did they work out the structural engineering to make these improbable edifices stay up?
The attention to detail is astounding – an upright support ends at the bottom in water spout, draining rainwater from the top; the lights that illuminate the entrances by night glower in red like malignant eyes. Everything looks as if it is slowly growing, and would surely take over the whole city if allowed.
I love the ornate railings that surround the Metropolitain entrances. These massive shields are cast like sculpture, with their surface design carefully modelled on both sides – if you look closely, you see that they are not symmetrical at all. No shortcuts here.
I love the fact that they are painted a soft verdigris green – cast iron made to look like copper. It is an appropriate colour, emphasising the organic quality of the constructions, yet a little too coppery-cool to be quite healthy. They even invite a little decay, which is why the odd spots of red iron rust breaking through look so good – as does the ubiquitous graffiti and the scent of urine that accompanies many of the stations. Art Nouveau went out of fashion a long time ago, yet these structures that so epitomise the style have become timeless, part of the fabric and character of the beautiful city they serve.
I have just received a noteworthy comment from a Parisian friend of mine, who says that I should not generalize on the basis of the remarks of the young man at the metro station – most Parisians are attached to those old fashioned Guimard metro stations. I stand corrected, and apologies to all those who have loved and helped to preserve this heritage.