My last post about Hector Guimard (Saving Hector Guimard, March 9, 2004) was about one of the buildings he designed in Paris, which underwent a disfiguring renovation. Now I have read an article by Marie-Douce Albert (Au Vésinet, Hector Guimard se laisse voir, August 9) for Le Figaro, about another of Guimard's buildings, a private home built in 1896 in the Parisian suburb of Le Vésinet, called the Villa Berthe or La Hublotière. The house at 72, route de Montesson, is still in private hands, in this little town where Mrs. Ionarts and I spent a lot of time when we lived in France. The owner opened up the garden of his house, from July 1 to August 16, to anyone who wanted to see it out of interest in Guimard's work. Apparently, the façade is not all that interesting (my translation):
So the public can walk up, walk around the outside, inspect the walls down to the smallest details that Guimard always added in great number. The architect, who is known to posterity largely for the large flower buds and vines that he erected at the entrances of the Paris Métro, built this comfortable home in 1896. The client's name was M. Noguès, and he was renting out this land and already had an apartment in Paris and two houses nearby. But that's about all we know about him. "That's a shame because we also know that Guimard loved to capture something of the character of his clients in what he built," says Aude Thierry. This art history student, one of the interns who receive visitors, continues, "This man was probably somewhat rigid. We imagine that perhaps he reined in Guimard. Or maybe he was required to conform to the look of the neighborhood, because the façade is really pretty tame."The Villa Berthe is nicknamed La Hublotière because of the small port-hole (hublots) openings in the walls. (The owner's Web site has lots of photos.) According to the article, Guimard scholar Georges Vigne has called it Guimard's first work in the Art nouveau style, full of experiments that led to more developed ideas in the famous Castel Béranger in the 14th arrondissement of Paris (14, rue la Fontaine).
On the side facing the street, the house is reasonably symmetrical, organized around a large stone tower (perron). All of this could be mistaken for a style much more bourgeois than Guimard's if we did not also find the architect's footprint in the sitting neogothic dogs, the mixture of colors in the red brick and cream stone, the twists of forged iron in the balconies, the wave motifs above the windows, and the fine arabesques in whip shapes sculpted in the stone.