If you think a jewelry store should be bare and minimal for the gems to stand out on their own, then I strongly urge you to head over to the Musée Carnavalet, a former hôtel particulier in the Marais, which charts Paris’s history in more than 100 rooms, and march straight to the replica of jeweler Georges Fouquet’s shop. It will leave you convinced that a store like this, just like the jewelry it sells, can be the star of the show.
It was designed in 1901 by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, one of the leading names in Art Nouveau. Having already collaborated on jewelry pieces together, Fouquet asked Mucha to design all the interior and exterior decorations of his chic 6 rue Royale shop. And design he did!
Every inch of the shop is bound to bowl you over. The relief of a woman greets customers at the entrance, her arms and neck thrown back gracefully. The lightings, the showcase tables and the ceilings are all decorated in flowing lines, swirls and themes of flora. A majestic peacock sculpture is spread out against stained glass windows, and another one is perched close to the ceiling, surveying the shop.
The entire room is from the original store designed by Alphonse Mucha; Fouquet donated his rue Royale shop in its entirety to the museum, and it was reassembled as it was. It’s a small room brimming with colour and grandiose, a completely preserved Belle Epoque work of art housed in one of the most interesting yet rather underrated museums in Paris.
And while you’re already there, take in all the Paris richness Musée Carnavalet has to offer: paintings and objects from the French Revolution, prehistoric canoes, scale model of Guillotines, a room filled with the original furniture of Café de Paris, and the famous cork-lined bedroom of Marcel Proust.
23 rue de Sévigné, 75003
Metro: line 1 (Saint Paul), line 8 (Chemin Vert)
Along with the dizzying number of museums and monuments in Paris, a tour of the Grands Magasins (literally, big stores or department stores) merits a place in the list of things to do and see in the city. You may wonder why these huge, block-long department stores are such a big deal – they are, after all, just stores, and Paris has millions of them, you may say. But beneath their grandeur and breathtaking architecture lies a history that revolutionized the art of retail.
LE BON MARCHÉ 24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris Metro: Sèvres-Babylone
Street in front of Le Bon Marché, 1935. Credit: Ministère de la Culture (France) – Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine – diffusion RMN
Shopping was difficult in the 19th century. Specialized shops meant that one had to go door to door to find specific products, and when these items were found, customers would have to haggle for a price, as the wares remained without fixed prices. (more…)
Art-Nouveau-style frosted glass windows inside Mai Manó Ház, a center for Hungarian photography
Sauntering lazily through Budapest’s city center on the first Saturday of summer, I joined a group of inquisitive expatriates, all of whom, like me, were hoping to glean some deeper understanding of the city we now call our home. What we discovered was a sliver of history, a luminous layer beneath the heartache of communism, beneath the horror of Nazi rule, and beneath two World Wars. We glimpsed a time over a hundred years ago when idealism was pursued in pure, unfettered earnest by means of a globally budding art form fittingly called Art Nouveau.
The style, known as Szecesszió in Hungarian, was first characterized in an 1894 issue of Berlin’s arts and literary magazine, Pan, as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip.” Think the undulating façade of Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, or the burlesque image of that iconic Moulin Rouge poster. Think a combination of curvilinear shapes and right angles, birds, flowers, insects and femme fatales. Art Nouveau, which took shape from the 1880s to just prior to World War I, is not to be confused with the streamlined, geometric shapes of Art Deco (as in New York City’s Chrysler Building), which flourished in the roaring twenties along with post war industrialism.
Photo of a storefront poster on Nagymező Street, in what was once the burlesque quarter of the city
Globally, Art Nouveau’s expression was wide-ranged, the movement bohemian. Artists of the time redefined the very meaning and purpose of art, often convening in coffee shops to explore the endless possibilities of new thought and voice. The wealthy supported and indulged these men and women, allowing for an eruption of varying ideas that flowed lava-like into every crevice and corner of the globe.
Ödön Lechner, an Art Nouveau pioneer in Hungary during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was initially influenced by both Indian and Syrian designs, as illustrated by the implementation of his ideas to Budapest’s Museum of Applied Arts.
Magyar Iparművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Applied Arts), designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos and built between 1893 and 1896
Like so much that evolves in Hungary, Art Nouveau solidified into its current expression because the country, historically linked to a various line of ruling nations, has in turn been seduced by each of them. But artists of this country also possess an abiding loyalty to the traditions rooted in their own culture, a source of zealous pride among Hungarians. The swelling domes of the Far East and the elegant, coy curves of Western European Baroque seamlessly melt into the multihued, flowering spirals of Hungarian folk art.
The global movement sought to break ties with all things classical in form, though some works paradoxically—and skillfully—combined Art Nouveau with Renaissance Revival, which is emphatically classic. The movement aspired to transcend the view that art should be elevated, set on a pedestal above the mundane. It therefore incorporated beauty into daily, practical life—in furniture, tapestries, paintings, glassware, jewelry, metalwork, textiles and more—thereby heightening the everyday quality of existence. Artists were duty bound by a self-imposed code of ethics to transform the most utilitarian, humdrum articles and gadgets into objects of splendor. But the lasting mark of it in Budapest can best be seen in the architecture.
Façade of the Mai Manó Ház, built from 1893 to 1894. The building is home to the Magyar Fotográfusok Háza (House of Hungarian Photographers).
Detail on the façade of Mai Manó Ház
Ceiling of the Mai Manó Ház foyer
Detail of the Mai Manó Ház foyer ceiling
Façade of Alexandra Bookstore on Andrássy Út. The building was erected in 1911.
Ceiling of Alexandra Bookstore’s tea and coffee shop. It is a combination of both Art Nouveau and the Renaissances Revival style from which many artists of the time strove to distance themselves.
Façade of Ernst Múzeum, built in 1912
For the wandering art enthusiast, the most elusive examples of Art Nouveau are the designs in foyers of common apartment tenements, as seen below. I can only imagine the treasures I wasn’t able to see, the concealed delights, flints meant to spark a nation and a world that had festered too long in the old. It was time for the new.
Peeking through the bars and glass of an apartment complex entrance, known casually as the Napoleon building. The tenement was once dedicated to Napoleon III. The stained-glass art on the windows are perfect examples of Art Nouveau.
Façade of the Napoleon building
The walk left me humbled. Art was so valued at the turn of the twentieth century, artists so encouraged, the resulting beauty—either showcased publically or still lingering in the common areas of private residences—is impressive. Today, it’s difficult not to scoff at all those dime-a-dozens saturating the entertainment industry, or at the fact that literary novel sales are smoked by those bestsellers recounting tales of how people met their dogs or the best way to eradicate cellulite. What I saw in Budapest makes me feel nostalgic for a time before my time, for an era when art was an internal struggle and a fierce desire to unleash a statement.
Rene Jules Lalique was a renowned French glass designer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is best known for his jewelry and decorative arts which were designed primarily in the Art Nouveau style, and one of his architectural pieces can be found right here in New York City on the facade of Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue.