by Sarah D. Coffin, Senior Curator and Head, Product Design and Decorative Arts Department Emeritus, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Synonymous with the term Art Nouveau, Hector Guimard’s name is most widely known as the author of the sinuous, organic Metro station ironwork created at the time of the Paris 1900 world’s fair.

View of Métro Entrance, Entrées du Metropolitan de Paris modéle adopté pour les lignes, showing open-stairway entry, c. 1900. New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division

However, Guimard was also the architect and designer of numerous houses and apartment buildings, often of undulating shapes, in and around Paris, and the elegant furnishings that could be placed in them as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.  What is less known, and this exhibition hopes to highlight, is that Guimard was really a modern thinker and socially conscious architect. He not only worked in high cost materials, but also in cast iron and created worker housing designs to bring good design to those on a limited budget.

Plate illustrating the Construction of Reinforced “Standard” Facade Walls, Standard-Construction October 1920 Pen and black ink, graphite on tracing paper, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, Gift of MME Hector Guimard, 1956-78-1-22

Announcement Card for Pavilion le style Guimard at the Housing Exhibition at the Grand Palais des Champs Elysees, July 30 -November 15,1903, Letterpress

He was also a self-promoter who advertised his style by calling it “style Guimard” and making postcards to promote his work.

Here, examples of the full range of his work, from elegant furniture, photo frames, jewelry, and textiles to drawings and elevations of architecture, and both special and mass production work   co-exist together in harmony as he showed how to apply “le style Guimard” to every level of commission.

Photo Frame, from the Hôtel Guimard Photo Frame; Designed by Hector Guimard ((French, 1867–1942)); France; bronze, gold, plate glass

That this exhibition is mounted in the United States is due to Hector Guimard’s partnership with his wife, Adeline Oppenheim Guimard, a wealthy American artist who studied in Paris, whom he married in 1909. Both a business and a personal partnership, Hector and Adeline referred to the theme of this partnership themselves:  he “ an architect of art” and she, in preparation for their wedding “It will be necessary to make of our whole life a work of art”.  Hector Guimard created the designs for the embroidery for Adeline’s wedding dress, engagement ring, and various pieces of jewelry for the occasion. They soon embarked on his design for their house-cum-showroom in what became Hôtel Guimard, their house which they opened to friends and potential clients.

Hotel Guimard, c. 1913, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, 1956-78-3

Hector designed frames around Adeline’s paintings, created furniture, picture frames, vases and other domestic accessories to create the whole interior, including hanging lamp fixtures, curtains, wall coverings and carpets that could be acquired, like the cast-iron balconies for his apartment buildings, through commercial producers.


Adeline Guimard’s bedroom in Hotel Guimard, c. 1913. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York

Balcony Balustrade, Model GI, Designed by Hector Guimard, Manufactured by St Dizier Foundry, cast iron. Museum purchase from the Members’ Acquisitions Fund of Cooper-Hewitt,…. 2011-28-1

Hector Guimard continued to work on worker houses and other socially conscious issues during and after World War I as the Art Nouveau style faded. Cooper Hewitt also received examples of these designs −images of standard housing construction with the early use of re-inforced concrete walls. Image He produced designs for the Paris 1925 fair, but the Depression of the 1930s caused the couple to retrench. Then, in 1938, the couple realized, with Adeline’s Jewish heritage, that they would need to leave France quickly. They sailed in haste for New York.  Hector died there during World War II, and many of their favorite objects sent there, remained.

Adeline, who returned on a trip to Paris in 1948 first tried, unsuccessfully, to give their house to create a Guimard Museum when the appeal of Art Nouveau was at its nadir. She then gave two rooms and some archives still in Paris to various museums, but returned to the United States to decide what to do to preserve Hector Guimard’s legacy.

Fortunately, the Guimards had made friends with the Museum of Modern Art Director Alfred Barr in Paris. Barr was the first to see Guimard’s importance as a modern architect, having included Guimard in an early exhibition.  Adeline sought his counsel, and gave MoMA some objects. He helped Adeline find the best homes for the remaining works from the Guimards’ collection, with the lion’s share going to the Cooper Union Museum of Decorative Arts (as Cooper Hewitt was then) along with other referrals to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Avery Library at Columbia.

It is because of Adeline’s tenacity and the perspicacity of Curator Calvin Hathaway and others that Cooper Hewitt’s collection of Guimard works, almost all of which were given by Madame Guimard and her family, that this exhibition can tell the story of the modernism of Guimard, along  with luxury items, both from the partnership of a patron-muse wife on whose shoulders his legacy fell. That she felt it was a partnership is shown by her giving some artistic works of her own, mainly portrait drawings, for which her husband had created frames. She also gave the designs for his more mass market projects that were often not built but enable this side of the Atlantic to secure his reputation more broadly.

The partnership with the Driehaus Museum, which features a large collection formed by Richard Driehaus, of Guimard articles, enables Americans to see a significant number of Guimard designs in the United States, augmented by some key loans from France. Such examinations of collections can lead to exciting new ways of seeing important design figures in a new light.

Featured Image: Postcard No. 10 from Le Style Guimard series, “Hector Guimard in His Workroom at Castel Béranger,” 1903; Black ink, brush, watercolor on sepia paper; 8.9 x 13.9 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Gift of Madame Pejol, 1958-84-1; Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

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