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8 July 2019

Hôtel Mezzara and the Guimard Museum project

  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, 60 rue La Fontaine, Paris, 1910. Photo courtesy Cercle Guimard
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, dining room. Photo Laurent Sully Jaulmes
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, hall. Photo Nicolas Horiot
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara,stained glass in hall. Photo Frédéric Descouturelle
  • Hector Guimard. Castel Béranger, 14, Rue Jean de La Fontaine, Paris 1898. Photo André Mignard
  • Hector Guimard. Entrance to the Porte Dauphine Métro station, Paris. Photo Frédéric Descouturelle
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, 60 rue La Fontaine, Paris, 1910. Photo courtesy Cercle Guimard
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, dining room. Photo Laurent Sully Jaulmes
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara, hall. Photo Nicolas Horiot
  • Hector Guimard. Hôtel Mezzara,stained glass in hall. Photo Frédéric Descouturelle
  • Hector Guimard. Castel Béranger, 14, Rue Jean de La Fontaine, Paris 1898. Photo André Mignard
  • Hector Guimard. Entrance to the Porte Dauphine Métro station, Paris. Photo Frédéric Descouturelle

Le Cercle Guimard, a not for profit association, is carrying the project to house a museum dedicated to the architect Hector Guimard in the ‘Hôtel Mezzara’ in Paris.

This private mansion, one of the most interesting buildings by architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942), is located in the district of Auteuil in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Far less known than the famous entrances to the Paris metro what Guimard is known for, Hôtel Mezzara surprises with its elegance and its perfect response to the program of the client: a place intended for family life, but also for receptions and modern artistic creativity.

Paul Mezzara, born in France in 1866, had an artistic personality that, throughout his hectic life, allowed him to start a career as a painter before moving towards industrial art by founding in Venice, then in Paris, a lace and embroidery factory providing him with a solid financial position. Being thus a recognized personality in the field of decorative arts, he was elected in 1910, at the same time as Guimard, a vice-president of the Society of Decorator Artists. Thereafter, the evolution of the Mezzara’s social status allowed him to consider owning a Paris mansion, which, combined with his artistic understanding with the architect, made his order logical in the same year 1910.

Thanks to a plot of land with a garden at the back, acquired near the ‘Castel Béranger’ which made the architect’s fame fifteen years earlier, the ‘Hôtel Mezzara’ reflects the evolution of Guimard’s style. Far from the wild character of the beginnings, now mellowed and elegant, this matured style remains faithful to the constructive principles laid down since 1899. Because the building is not the place for a flashy luxury display of materials as was then favoured by the ‘bourgeois’ upper class. On the street side, the cut stone is used sparingly while Guimard gives pride of place to the discrete silico-limestone brick. While facades and interior spaces show a real decorative refinement, their cost is mastered by an architect who has made an alliance with the industry. Shortly after his conversion to Art Nouveau, by acquiring an art studio before 1900, Guimard gradually built up a repertoire encompassing all the objects of the architectural decor. His purpose is to use them for his own constructions, but also to make them available to the public by having them mass produced by industrialists. In 1910, while a small series of buildings and his own mansion are under construction, he has created an impressive range of ornamental fonts, hardware, door handles and cremones*, decorative artefacts, mirrors, fireplaces, wall coverings, etc. all from his own imagination and able to equip interiorly and externally any architectural program from a modest apartment to a mansion.

Guimard's art studio was also able to produce priceless unique pieces such as the dining room furniture of the ‘Hôtel Mezzara’, its only furniture set to still be in its original location. It consists of a table, twelve chairs and a three-part buffet designed to fit into an alcove. Signed and dated 1912, the buffet was certainly installed during the same year that probably marked the completion of the room. The warm grain of the pear tree, which has been Guimard's favourite for several years, admirably serves its graphics and allows a quality of execution almost unmatched at the time.

While Guimard did not receive the order for the whole decoration of the interiors, it is dominating in the study, the bedrooms and the big hall. The latter is equipped with a surprising staircase decorated with ornamental fonts and whose ascent to the gallery of the first floor is done by stages and reversals. All the stained-glass windows surrounding the hall, including the impressive zenithally window, were designed by Guimard and executed using inexpensive industrial glass in a limited range of colours. To complete the decoration, Mezzara also commissioned other friends, mostly members of the Society of Decorator Artists, including Léon Jallot to whom the large salon was allocated and Charlotte Chauchet-Guilleré, author of strengthened canvas ‘Le Goûter’, placed in the alcove of the dining room.

But the eventful sentimental life of Paul Mezzara will thwart the completion of the decoration. His third marriage ended in a separation that led to his departure in 1913. From then on, the mansion will no longer receive additional fittings and was rented out. Until 1928 the family Rouland, whose father ran the nearby gas plant on the quai de Passy, settled in the premises. Paul Mezzara having died in 1918, his four daughters put the mansion on sale and the three Lacascade sisters, of Antillean origin, acquired it in 1930 to establish a private school. The Lacascade School was very famous and educated many children in the neighbourhood and beyond, until 1956. The mansion was then transferred to the State for the Ministry of National Education, which transformed it into a boarding school as an annex of the Foyer des Lycéennes in rue du Docteur Blanche. The mansion stayed under this status for nearly 50 years and, thanks to the rehabilitation of Art Nouveau, saw its first restoration begin in 1979. After an inscription in 1994 to the additional inventory of historical monuments, the entire mansion was classified as a Historic Monument on July 5, 2016. Its facades and roof were restored in 2005. It was used as a setting for several artistic exhibitions as well as a set for movie shootings such as ‘Chéri’ by Stephen Frears in 2009. In 2015, its sale by the State is decided.

Le Cercle Guimard mobilizes itself to alert the public and the authorities on the interest of maintaining ‘Hôtel Mezzara’ as a place open to the public and on the need to restore it as an opportunity to finally present the work of Hector Guimard. Since 2018, the French entrepreneur Fabien Choné and Le Cercle Guimard have joined forces to carry such a project, supported by the municipal authorities and the RATP (the Parisian metro company). The negotiation process started with the French State should be concluded in 2020.

This project includes the restoration of the place, the establishment of collections and the deployment of technical means conducive to explore the imagination of a multi-talented creator. It will show that Art Nouveau is the first of the modern styles and that it was not just a decorative revolution. The ‘Hôtel Mezzara’ is now at a turning point in its history and may showcase this period of exceptional creativity in France.

For further information, please visit www.lecercleguimard.fr.

* A Crémone or "Crémone Bolt" is a type of decorative hardware used as a locking device to fasten a pair of swinging windows or casement window.

Note from Iconic Houses:
Cercle Guimard has developed 9 themed routes with Guimard’s work in Paris. With a duration of approximately 2 hours, these guided visits are given by a heritage conservator. The maps of these routes can be found in the above link and serve also self-guided tours.

Posted 11 September 2019