Sunday, 14 September 2014

Abram Games - graphic design genius at London's Jewish Museum

London's Jewish Museum in Camden is currently staging an exhibition on the life and work of graphic designer Abram Games. Born in 1914 in Whitechapel to Russian Jewish immigrants, Joseph and Sarah Gamse (not Games), he was to become one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century.

Zoo/ tiger for London Transport, 1975. Lithograph.
Joseph Gamse worked as a photographic processor in his studio below the family flat in Hackney's Lower Clapton Road. The young Abram (at that time called Abraham) used his father's artists materials to entertain  himself. Only an average school student he failed the 11 plus examination in 1925 before Sarah persuaded his father to pay for him to attend Hackney Downs boys school which had a reputation for helping working class boys achieve in medicine, business, laws and other professions. It also produced artists Leon Kossof, playwright Harold Pinter and actor Stephen Berkoff. Our hero appears to have not done too well at Hackney Downs - one report describing his drawing as "weak", his writing as 'poor" and his general demeanour as "lazy and indifferent". The formidable Sarah visited the school to put the head teacher right on this!

In 1926 Abraham changed his named by deed poll from "Gamse" to the more English sounding "Games" and adopted Abram rather than Abraham as his forename. He had a desire to attend art school but failed to secure a scholarship and so, somewhat reluctantly, his parents paid for him to attend St. Martin's School of Art. He left St. Martin's after two terms, doubting his ability and disillusioned with his fellow students and teachers. 

Evening classes, 1935. Lithograph.
Abram worked for his father by day and by night designed cards for tradesmen and posters for his own portfolio. In 1932 he took a job at Askew Yonge,  a commercial art studio to supplement the family income. He also began to enter poster design competitions, taking second place (and three guineas) in the Health and Cleanliness Council poster competition and winning the London County Council (LCC) Evening Classes competition - and a very welcome twenty pounds. His winning design attracted some criticism from the press for being "too Germanic" and even "monstrous". There is something menacing about the figure with receding forehead and the L of LCC being used as a finger against his cheek, indicating thought, but I rather like it. It is certainly of its time, shows strong European influences and was probably way ahead of anything a staid local authority would commission in 1932 - but he won.

Rebellious and disruptive at work he had several disagreements with his employers including about who owned the copyright on work completed in his own time he was dismissed from Askew Yonge in 1936. He spent the next several months touting his portfolio around several agencies before securing work with London Transport following an article on his work in Art and Industry magazine. His relationship with London Transport was to go on until 1975 and included perhaps his most well known work - the poster for London Zoo featured at this top of this post. His first poster for the company was A Train Every 90 Seconds, published in 1937 in simple black, red and white and very much in the then contemporary modernist style, making use of the underground symbol with a dark swirl indicating the train coming in to the station. 

Poster for London Transport, 1937. Lithograph
In June 1940, Abram was conscripted into the army, training for three months before being placed in the Hertfordshire Regiment. Spotted drawing caricatures of officers during a Christmas show, he was given work as a draughtsman, producing maps and plans. Living in barracks in 1941 and concerned about the lack of health and hygiene information he produced a series of instructional posters encouraging servicemen (and women) to be more health conscious. This led to his producing a poster to support recruitment to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The poster showed an extremely glamorous young woman - blonde with bright red lipstick and pencilled in eyebrows, face half in shadow looking into the distance above the simple message "Join the ATS". This image became the subject of controversy. Referred to as "the blonde bombshell", it was deemed too daring and in October 1941 Parliament demanded it not be reprinted, ironic given that the purpose of the campaign was to dispel the dowdy image of the ATS and attract more women to the service. Amusingly, the Conservative MP, Thelma Cazalet Keir was one of the strongest objectors saying "Women should be attracted into the army by patriotism, not glamour! This poster is better suited to advertise beauty products". 

Another significant Games war-time poster was Serve as a soldier vote as a citizen, produced in 1944, encouraging soldiers to register for the vote, doing their democratic as well wartime duty. The design shows the future of the country in the hands of servicemen and women holding the voting pencil which forms the tower of Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament. The red, white and blue clouds, references to the national flag emphasise the patriotic duty of voting.

ATS, 1941. Lithograph.
Serve as a soldier,vote as a citizen, 1944. Lithograph.
After the war, Games returned to civilian life, working as a freelance designer and lecturing in graphic design at the Royal College of Art. In 1945, he met and married Marianne Salfeld, grand daughter of the former Chief Rabbi of Hesse. Together with her family, Marianne had left Germany in 1937. Their first child, Daniel was born in 1946 and shortly before the birth of their second child, Sophie in 1948, the family moved to a house in Golders Green. This was to be Abram's home and workplace for the rest of his life

Games' postwar years were very busy. He was involved in a number of Jewish charities and organisations and produced several works aimed at raising awareness of the plight of Jewish refugees in Europe. One of the most haunting is reproduced below - Give clothing for liberated Jewry, for the British Jewish Relief Committee. The large sunken eye of the figure looks directly at the viewer whilst the red and black background may be intended as a reference to the furnaces of the death camps.

Despite the events of the War, anti-semitsim was still prevalent and the then British government at first refused to make provision for Jewish refugees, saying they were the responsibility of their "own" governments in Europe. Those governments were often the same people who had often at best stood back and ignored the events of the war and at worst actively participated in the Holocaust. Games was outspoken in his opposition to anti-semitism, demonstrated by his actions when seeing a nazi flag flying from a building in Swiss Cottage in 1948.  Leaping from the bus he was on at the time he climbed to the first floor of the building and tore the flag down. 

His interest in Jewish issues included support for the young state of Israel re-established in 1948. The Israel Philatelic Department held a competition to design a stamp to commemorate Independence Day in 1950. Games won the competition, visited the country instead of accepting prize money and was invited to design a stamp for the Maccabiah Games during his stay. He was no newcomer to stamp design having been responsible for one of the stamps  produced to celebrate the 1948 London Olympic Games. He went on to design another six Israeli stamps and back home continued his work with Jewish organisations large and small.

Give clothing for liberated Jewry, 1945. Lithograph.
Perhaps his finest moment came when his proposal for the emblem for the 1951 Festival of Britain was accepted and was used not only on posters and printed materials but also on items as diverse as chocolate, soap, toilet paper and mousetraps, not to mention being sown into floor beds and drawn into chalk hills. He said that his design was influenced by his wife hanging out the family washing - note the red, white and blue bunting hanging on the line beneath the main symbol! The Festival was intended to showcase the nation's achievements and drive for economic recovery following the Second World War and his design was seen by the millions of visitors. It lives on now in exhibitions such as that at the Jewish Museum and in the many books produced on his life and work. 

Perhaps due to having spent his early years seeing the poverty of Whitechapel, he was a lifelong socialist, demonstrated by his work to promote health care and education. He was also deeply influenced by his Judaism witnessed by his work for Jewish charities and organisations. Artistically, he was impressed by the designs of the Bauhaus in Germany, the de Stijl movement in the Netherlands  and work originating in the Soviet Union from the likes of Kandinsky and El Lissitzky. Like many creative people of his generation he was not limited to one medium. As well as posters, publicity and stamps he also designed a number of book covers for Penguin paperbacks and tried his hand at inventions related to the printing process and to improving coffee makers (!). Examples of these, family photographs, school reports, letters and many other posters can be seen in the current exhibition which runs until 4th January 2015. I was especially moved by his final letter to his grandson written shortly before his death in 1996 in which his love for both art and family is clear and touching. Oh, and if you use Stockwell Station you may well have seen or even stood beside one of his designs - the Swan - a blue and white ceramic work on the platform of the Victoria Line - which will be the subject of a future Picture Post. 

Festival of Britain, 1948. Lithograph.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Essex Art Deco - Frinton Park Estate

Frinton-on-sea is a small coastal town in Essex, just one and a half hours by train from London. It is well-known for its long, curved beach and the almost 1,000 beach huts that line its promenade. The main street, Connaught Avenue, has several cafes and restaurants (including a great ice cream shop called Pop-pins), a book shop, a shop selling art deco objects and vintage clothing as well as a number of other stores.

Slightly less well known, but the reason for my recent visit, is its collection of art deco buildings constructed between 1934 and 1936 and located a short walk from the centre of the town, on the Frinton Park Estate. The Estate was to be part of a grand plan for up to 1,000 modernist buildings devised and designed by the slightly eccentric architect Oliver Hill. Returning from a holiday in Europe, enthused by the modernist architecture he had seen, Hill's proposal for Frinton included a new shopping centre, train station, town hall and school in addition to residential properties. He also drew up designs for a hotel that was to have been built in the under cliff and the estate information bureau. The information bureau was realised and survives today as a residential property called the Round House which, I understand, has a wonderful mosaic floor made from Poole Pottery depicting Hill's plans for the town.

Unfortunately Hill's grand scheme did not come to fruition as the company building the estate went into liquidation in 1935 having built less than twenty properties. However, these houses, and later additions built in a similar style still stand and attract many architecture fans each year. It is a pleasure to stroll along Audley Way, Waltham Way and Graces Walk admiring these pristine white and very well maintained buildings. In a few cases, red window frames, yellow doors or grey decorative features over the main door add a touch of colour and extra class to the houses. Those overlooking the sea are particularly striking with towers, long balconies, curves and portholes. Above all else, they are very large. The estate is on private land and only residents are allowed to park, but it is easy to stroll around and no-one seemed to mind my taking photographs.

The planned shopping centre never materialised, Frinton Park Court which stands on the junction of Central Avenue and Walton Road was designed as retail space and a dress shop and a bakery stood there for ten months before closing in 1935 due to lack of business and distance from the rest of the town. It was used for some years as a meeting place for a local Masonic Lodge but is currently in a very poor state of repair with an uncertain future. It is interesting that the estate attracts so many architectural enthusiasts today but was looked down on in the 1930's by some of the more established Frinton residents as being not quite the thing. The town also has a number of Arts and Crafts style houses (a style originally favoured by Hill), some designed by the great Charles Voysey - another reason for a day trip.

Hill was a bit of a character. Apparently a keen naturist, he also drove a pink Rolls Royce. Both an architect and a landscape gardener, he designed the art deco style Midland Hotel in Morecambe, built in  1932, was responsible for one of the stands at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 and Joldwynds, another stunning art deco house in Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey, built in 1932 for a the first Baron Greene. The hotel he had planned for fronton was to have been a near replica of the Midland but unfortunately it was never built. His greatest achievement is generally believed to be Landfall, at Poole in Dorset with its references to a luxury liner. Landfall was completed just before the Second World War and was Hill's last major work.

Its a great shame his grand scheme for Frinton-on-sea did not fully materialise but the houses that were built give a hint of what might have been and together with the pretty main street and attractive sea front make the town a greta place to visit for the day. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Secret Paris

One of my favourite travel experiences is to wander around a city happening upon unexpected places. On my recent visit to Paris, I did some strolling in the 14th and 15th arrondissements as well as the more central neighbourhoods and found some new favourite places away from the main tourist centres.

I discovered a little street called Villa Santos-Dumont after having been to see the Groupe Scolaire and College Modigliani at Rue Cherbourg. Purely by chance, I wandered into this little piece of Parisian paradise with its beautiful trees, whitewashed buildings and artists'  houses. The area was once a vineyard and the street still has a country village feel to it. Designed by architect Raphael Paynot and built in 1926 it was originally named Villa Chauvelot, going on to acquire its current name in 1943 in honour of the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. It attracted a number of artists already resident in Montparnasse including Ossip Zadkine (who lived at number 3), Fernand Leger  (number 4), Viktor Brauner (number 10 bis) and Malvina Hoffman (number 25). Villa Santos-Dumont was a real find - quiet and peaceful and full of houses and studios where it was very easy to imagine sitting reading, listening to music and enjoying coffee and good bread (or possibly cakes). The only company I had was a sleek, brown coloured and not entirely friendly Abyssinian cat keeping guard over one of the doorways.

Villa Santos-Dumont, 15th arrondissement, Paris
Inviting entrance to one of the houses in Villa Santos-Dumont
Having had an early start, I was hungry and had lunch at Besame Mucho, a small Mexican restaurant at 60 Rue des Morillons, just around the corner from the Villa. Decorated in bright colours that reminded me of my time in Mexico City last year, I was drawn in by the mention of quesadillas on the menu displayed in the window. Mexican food in London  can be a real disappointment - its often very oily and lacks the sharpness of the real thing. No such trouble at Besame Mucho, probably because the restaurant is owned by a very friendly Mexican couple, Paul and Desiree, who have lived in Paris for 12 years and cook for their guests as they would cook for themselves.  Desiree told me they had also lived in London and reminisced about some of the time spent on the Northern Line in the old "misery line" days. As well as my delicious cheese quesadillas I enjoyed a very light flan and a couple of strong coffees before going on my way. The restaurant, which is decorated with Mexican artefacts and pictures has a varied menu of real Mexican dishes and is very much recommended.

Besame Mucho restaurant, 60 Rue des Morillons, 15th arrondissement, Paris

House in Square Montsouris, 14th arrondissement, Paris
I visited a Le Corbusier building in the 14th arrondissement - the house and studio of the artist Amadeo Ozenfant on Avenue Reille.  Square Montsouris is a beautiful, private street (despite being called a square) adjacent to Avenue Reille and takes its name from the nearby Parc Montsouris. Built between 1920 and 1930, several of the buildings have at least some art deco features whilst others have elements  from the earlier art nouveau period including decorative ceramic details. In addition to Ozenfant having lived on the corner in the Le Corbusier building, the square has been home to a number of other artists including Tsugouharu Fujita who lived there in 1928 whilst Roger Bissiere was a resident during the 1930's. Like Villa Santos-Dumont, the square is very green and has the feel of a village rather than a street in one of the world's busiest cities. The park is at the end of the square and is a good place to sit for a while after a morning spent exploring the area. After visiting the square and the adjacent Rue Georges Braque which has a couple of great modernist buildings, I enjoyed a rest and a drink at Cafe Chin Chin,  on Avenue Reille, a small cafe bar opposite the park with good opportunities for people watching.

Wood fronted house in Square Montsouris
I found a third Parisian secret when visiting the Musee Mendjisky Ecoles de Paris in Square Vergennes, another private street. As well as being home to the beautiful modernist museum designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens  it also has a number of interesting private homes, some with deco features. My favourite private home in Square Vergennes is located at the very end of the street (which like Square Montsouris is not really a square!). The facade is rendered in cement with white details including stars at the upper level where there is also a blue panel and blue diamond shapes. The blue and white theme is also played out on the ground floor with a blue line following the outlines of the doors and windows. All that I have been able to find out about the building is that it dates from 1927, so if anyone knows anything else, please let me know in the comments box!

23 Square Vergennes, 15th arrondissement, built 1927. Architect unknown.
My other discoveries relate to food! To be more precise they relate to cake What else? I visited the wonderful Paris 1900 exhibition at the Petit Palais - arriving an hour before the museum opened on the Saturday morning after not managing to get in the day before as the queue snaked around the building. After seeing the exhibition and after browsing the museum shop, I wanted coffee and cake. I had noticed an external passage with ceiling paintings behind the main reception area and went to investigate before searching for a cafe. Entering the passage, not only did I see a sign for a cafe but also a beautiful garden with ponds surrounded by blue and gold painted ceramic tiles. The terrace cafe has great views of the Palais' exquisite and very Parisian dome. The cafe did not disappoint either. Good coffee, macaroons, tiny pain au raisin and a mango cream were all very acceptable and reasonably priced by Paris standards. Of course, there were two of us and not all of the treats were for me! Honest.

Dome of the Petit Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill, 8th arrondissement.
Detail from the pool in the courtyard of the Petit Palais
Painted ceiling of the terrace passage, Petit Palais
Despite the many changes of recent years, some of them not for the better, I still love the Marais. One of the recent developments that I most certainly do approve of is L'eclair de genie, an eclair shop in Rue Pavee. I have seen queues outside the shop, so its clearly no longer a secret with its selection of  passion fruit and mango, raspberry, pistachio and of course chocolate and coffee eclairs. Some have gold leaf on the icing! The eclairs are not cheap at 4.5 euros each but they are little works of art that are worth splashing out on. A little further along the Rue Pavee there is another gem - the Synagogue of the Rue Pavee, designed by Hector Guimard and built in 1913.

Works of art at L'eclair de Genie, Rue Pavee, 4th arrondissement.
Finally, a picture that demonstrates Parisian eccentricity - also in the Marais. Strolling along Rue des Francs Bourgeois I could see a crowd gathering and hear music playing before seeing the character in the picture below. There's always something different in Paris…

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Memories of Middlesbrough and days long gone

I was born and brought up in Redcar, a small seaside town in the north east of England. With ambitions to travel, I spent large amounts of my late teenage years in the nearest "big town" - Middlesbrough where I went to school, socialised and eventually lived and worked for a short time before leaving the area completely. After many years, I have recently been spending a little more time back in the north east including passing through a now very different Middlesbrough, but of which I still have many fond memories. 

The former Masham Hotel - it's drinking days gone
A lot - possibly most - of my old favourite places have now gone. Fearnley's record shop on Linthorpe Road disappeared a few years ago after serving local soul music fans for many years. It was there that I made a weekly Saturday morning pilgrimage to browse through rack after rack of 12"singles, including US imports that sold for the princely price of three pounds fifty in the late 1970's and early 1980's but which gave me hours of delight listening to them on my mono record player. I can still remember the excitement of getting US copies of Sylvester's "Dance", the Bombers "Let's Dance" and the Force's "Rock Your Baby" as well as amassing a few hundred other 12" single  dance classics from this shrine to black music. Mr Fearnley himself would be behind the counter most days, stroking his goatee beard and obligingly handing over a box of 7" imports to browse through, recommending items I might like because he knew my taste so well. Jackie Moore "This Time Baby", Rahni Harris "Six Million Steps" and Bonnie Pointer's "Free Me From My Freedom" (red vinyl if you please) all came into my hands through this tiny but packed shop. 

Music was very important to me as a teenager and Middlesbrough was where I went to find it, not only at Fearnley's but also at the old Hamilton's music store next to the bus station and Dean Wycherley's little shop in the Cleveland Centre but also at Mandy's, a basement dance club. Mandy's, which is also long gone, was down a couple of flights of stairs in the Cleveland Centre opposite the Town Hall. It was here I would come on a Friday or Saturday night to meet mates, down drinks and dance to classics such as Trussel's "Love Injection", Patrice Rushen's "Haven't You Heard" and the spectacular George Duke track "I Want You For Myself". Ah, those were the days, quality dance music with real instruments and real singing. And they still sound good.

We didn't get much in the way of live music for fans of soul and jazz-funk back then but I did see Sister Sledge perform at the Town Hall. It was a slightly odd performance which included them doing their then recent string of hits produced by the Chic organisation and some very odd vocal impressions of Cher, Dolly Parton and others!

The Town Hall
Before joining the queue for entry to Mandy's I would join friends in any one of a number of pubs in the town centre. I have very fond memories of the Masham, the Lord Raglan and the Shakespeare, all "proper" pubs and unfortunately, astonishingly all gone now. I assume this is due to the economy which has hit Middlesbrough as hard as anywhere else - witness the abundance of pay day loan and pound shops - but am told that a few years ago there was a major clamp down on licensing violations, especially under age drinking. I must admit I drank in each of these pubs before reaching the age of 18. Sometimes rough, always friendly we would be served pints of "scotch" which was not a lethal dose of whisky, but the term used for bitter beer in the north-east. 

One of my favourite stories of those days is from the Lord Raglan where to my horror I found a piece of broken glass in my beer one night. Returning to the bar and telling the barmaid "Er love, there's a bit of broken glass in me drink" I receive the reply "there is not", showed it to her, she apologised…and dipped her hand in to take the offending article out before handing me the beer back. I must have looked surprised because she apologised again, took the drink back and poured the beer into another glass with an "ee, what am I thinking of" before handing it back again with a big smile and a "there you go love". I decided discretion was the better part of valour, retreated and left the drink on a table.

There were also slightly more sophisticated venues. Billy Paul, named after the American singer, was a more stylish basement bar on Newport Road and had a sister venue Mrs. Jones (get it - Billy Paul had a hit with the song Me and Mrs Jones?) - a restaurant which described itself as a buttery. I believe both of these venues have also disappeared now. Those of us who had spent all of our money on records and beer couldn't afford Mrs. Jones so we would go to the Wimpy or if in totally dire straits, buy something from one of the burger carts that sold in the street. Now I need to note, I never gave in to the temptation to do this, but as they say, I have a friend who did. One particularly cold and wet Saturday afternoon he purchased a burger from a cart operated by a woman in a once white woodwork apron, fingerless gloves and with an advanced head cold complete with a sniff and runny nose. It was a good thing she had those gloves to wipe her nose on. She shovelled blackened onions and a grey looking burger into a bun before seeming to remember something and asking "er, do you want cheese in that then, a cheeseburger like?" Amazingly he said he did so she opened the wide pocket in her once white woodwork apron and pulled out - with the fingerless gloved nose wiping hand - one of a number of loose craft cheese slices that were safely stored in there. He paid, took the burger, walked around the corner and threw it in the bin. 

The Central Library where I briefly worked
I also took part in healthier pursuits. I was a member of Middlesbrough and Cleveland Harriers, an athletics club based at the former Clairville Stadium near Albert Park. I understand that the stadium has now been demolished but that a new facility is to be provided in its place. I spent several Tuesday and Thursday nights there training for sprints and hurdles as well as competing in the local North Yorkshire South Durham (NYSD) athletics league with teams from Stockton, Billingham and Hartlepool. Clairville was also the location of an annual international pentathlon and decathlon match between the UK, Netherlands, Denmark and Spain. I felt very sophisticated going to these as a teenager, the highlight of which was the year former Olympic champion Mary Peters attended and signed her autograph for me. 

Our other stadium was Ayresome Park, home to Middlesbrough Football Club, also now demolished and replaced with a modern stadium close to the River Tees. As well as hosting some World Cup matches in 1966, it was the site of a jazz festival in 1978 at which Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie performed. Imagine, Ella Fitzgerald in Middlesbrough. I was too young to appreciate the world's best ever jazz vocalist and didn't go. Good thing I saw her several years later - in Wolverhampton which is probably even less likely than Middlesbrough.

Many things have changed about the town since I lived, worked and went to school there. Many of my old favourites have gone, but there is a wonderful new gallery of modern art - MIMA, and the former Uptons department store has been reinvented as Psyche, a high end fashion store in a beautifully refurbished building. I will be spending more time in the north east over the coming months and am looking forward to rediscovering the town I still have a very soft spot for.

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA)

The former Uptons department store - now Psyche
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Monday, 25 August 2014

More Paris Modernism - Mallet- Stevens, Le Corbusier and a modernist surprise.

Musee Mendijsky Ecoles de Paris, Square Vergennes. Built 1932, architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.
After  a long gap, I have resumed an old habit of visiting Paris each year. This is mainly due to my having discovered the wonderful modernist and art deco heritage the city has which includes theatres, cinemas, educational and religious buildings and many beautiful houses, apartment blocks and villas. 

This year's Parisian trip took place last week and I was able to see another house, which is now a museum, designed by the genius Robert Mallet-Stevens, an artist's home and studio designed by none other than Le Corbusier as well as some wonderful 1930's brick work (!) and a beautiful modernist house tucked way near Parc Montsouris. 

First things first. Taking the 7.30. Eurostar from London St. Pancras, I arrived in Paris in time to have dumped my bags at the hotel at 11.15 and to be back on the metro heading for the building that is now home to the Musee Mendijsky - Ecoles de Paris and which was designed by one of my architectural heroes, Robert Mallet-Stevens. The museum is tucked away in a tiny and very beautiful private side street - Square Vergennes in the 15th arrondissement, just across the road from the Vaugirard metro station.

Built in 1932, this former studio stands at the very end of the street, surrounded by trees and on even a relatively dark day, the huge double level facade window floods the building with light. To the right hand side of the building there is a four levelled curved protrusion, with the upper level recessed from the others, giving the building a slightly nautical look. But, the most outstanding feature is the beautiful grey, black and silver stained glass window from just above the small central door almost to the top of the facade. On the day of my visit the museum was closed as a number of smaller Parisian institutions and businesses still maintain the somewhat quaint custom of an August closedown. The building houses the works of Maurice Mendjisky, a Polish Jewish artist born in Lodz in 1890 and who came to study at the Ecole des beaux arts in Paris in 1906. He later lived at the heart of Bohemian Paris and mixed with, amongst others, Fujita, Man Ray, Soutine, Modigliani and Zadkine. He also had a brief affair with the famed Kiki of Montparnasse before she left him for Man Ray. An active anti-fascist in the 1930's he avoided capture by the Gestapo during the German occupation and survived the war, only to die of cancer in 1951. In his final years he devoted much time to producing drawings dedicated to the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Detail from stained glass window at Musee Mendijsky Ecole de Paris.

Interesting angles, Eglise St. Antoine de Padoue, Boulevard Lefebrve. Built 1931-33, architect Leon Azema.
Back on the metro, I headed to Porte de Versailles station from where a ten minutes walk along Boulevard Lefebvre leads to the Eglise (church) of St. Antoine of Padoue. Built between 1933 and 1935 and designed by architect Leon Azema, the main tower dominates the skyline along the boulevard with its beautiful red brick construction and decorative concrete lattice work. Standing 46 metres high, it has representations of saints at each corner - saints Francis, Louis, Clare and Elizabeth who keep watch across the arrondissement. 

The foundation stone was laid in 1931 by Cardinal Verdier, a leader of a Jesuit movement. He wanted to improve living conditions in the outer arrondissements in the 1920's including building new churches to serve the suburban poor. Verdier was an interesting character, speaking out against the excesses of Kristallnacht in 1938 and writing a letter of support for Leon Blum's Popular Front government in 1936. Architect Azema was also an interesting character, wounded and held as aprisoner of war during the First World War before going on to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he designed a number of buildings in Cairo and Alexandria before being appointed Architect of the City of Paris in 1928. He also designed the pavilion for the City of Paris at the Brussels International Exposition of 1935.

I like the angular design of the church and the way the various levels fit together below the main tower. Adjacent to the church there is a day care centre for young children that appears to have been built at the same time as the church. Built in the same red bricks as its taller neighbour, it also has a beautiful curve, with a slight nautical reference and a more recent extension at the rear. The church, the day care centre and one or two other buildings in the vicinity give an idea of how modern this part of Paris must have looked during the 1930's…and to some extent, still does now.

Main tower, Eglise St. Antoine de Padoue, Boulevard Lefebvre.
Children's day care centre, Boulevard Lefebvre.
From the Eglise, it is a further ten minutes walking to the Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani at the junction of Rue de Cherbourg and Rue des Morillons. This very large structure takes up a whole corner site and is home to both a primary school and a college. Built between 1932 and 1935, it was designed by architect Pierre Sardou. Immediately striking for the freeze above the corner entrance, which shows parents and children taking part in various sporting activities, this is a red brick stunner with curves, lines and angles that are reminiscent of the Amsterdam School of architecture in the Netherlands. Sardou was yet another graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, graduating in 1901. He went on to become Chief Architect of Historical Monuments in Paris. In addition to the patterned brickwork, the College also has decorative metalwork covering the windows and in the main entrance for students in Rue des Morillons.

Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani, Rue de Cherbourg. Built 1932-1935, architect - Pierre Sardou
 Groupe Scolaire/ College Modigliani. Built 1932-1935, architect - Pierre Sardou.
Amadee Ozenfant was a Cubist painter who together with architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret who became known as Le Corbusier, founded the Purist movement. The two met in 1917 and expounded the doctrine of Purism in their book Apres le Cubisme. They also jointly published La Peinture Moderne in 1925. Le Corbusier designed Ozenfant's home/ studio in 1922 in Avenue Reille, the first house that he designed in Paris. The house is made of reinforced concrete with a double facade, one facing Avenue Reille and the other with views over Square de Montsouris, a private (and very charming) street. Both facades feature large glazed areas at each level, letting in light at different times of the day whilst the exterior of the stairwell is also glazed. The house is designed over three levels with a garage at ground floor level, the artist's studio at first floor which is accessed by a curved concrete staircase and additional quarters on the top floor. There is also a roof terrace.

Villa Ozenfant, Avenue Reille. Built 1922, Le Corbusier.
Villa Ozenfant, Avenue Reille.
Just around the corner in Rue Georges Braque there are a number of interesting buildings including a modernist beauty at number 9, designed by Louis-Raymond Fischer and built in 1929. Known as Hotel Kielberg, its white cement exterior, squared off balcony and roof terrace could easily pass for Tel Aviv. As with the Ozenfant House, the glazing is a major feature with a huge, protruding 48 paned window on the facade topped with a further eight sloping panes that filter light from above. The ground floor appears to be taken up by garage space with the main entrance to the house being up an elegant flight of stairs that curves at the top. Like Mendjisky and Azema, Fischer studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts before going on to work with Loos in Vienna and was also linked with the Bauhaus School in Weimar. 

Hotel Kielberg, 9 Rue Georges Braque. Built 1929, architect Louis-Raymond Fischer
Hotel Kielberg, Rue Georges Braque
Paris is large city and holds many architectural secrets. The modernist buildings described in this post are all located in the outer 14th and 15th arrondissements but are easily accessible on public transport. I am looking forward to discovering some more of these treasures on my next visit.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Picture Post 34 - A House of Tiles in Paris

Most Paris visitors go to Porte de Clignancourt to visit the famous flea market with its many antique stalls, book dealers, vintage poster and postcard sellers and where you can get hundreds of other items ranging from real art deco objects in chic shops to dodgy mobile phones on sale outside the metro station! 

Less well known is an architectural beauty, just ten minutes walk from the metro station at 185 Rue Belliard. Rue Belliard is a long street with an interesting mixture of modern housing units - which at least appear to be in better condition than many of the estates on the edge of the city, 19th century buildings that once served as schools and now operate as training centres for the catering industry and quite a lot of frankly drab tenement blocks of various ages. 185 easily stands out from its neighbours and can be seen from some way along the street. 

Built between 1910 and 1913, the structure of the building is not particularly outstanding although the recessed windows and the juliet balconies are pleasing, but the exterior decoration is simply stunning. Henri Deneux, who was both the architect and the land owner covered his building in brightly coloured plain industrial ceramic squares in intricate patterns, including stylised flowers and geometric shapes, creating a visual delight in this part of the 18th arrondissement.  The simple design of the building - which has only two curves, the lintel of the main entrance from Rue Belliard and also a slighter one above the smaller side entrance in Rue Tennis - is belied by the painstaking patterns and also by the wonderful representation of an artist above the main entrance. Complete with compasses, set square and drawing board, the image shows the architect himself at work. There is something of the renaissance about this image - perhaps its the beard and the smock! I like his tired look, resting his head on one hand whilst designing with the other. Perhaps he intended it to be a reminder to residents of how hard he worked on the exterior design - something they see every time they come through the main door!

Architect Deneux's main claim to fame is that he worked extensively on the restoration of Reims Cathedral. He was particularly responsible for the restoration of its concrete framing following extensive damage in the First World War when the Cathedral was hit by over 300 fire bombs between 1914 and 1918.  His work on the cathedral must have been the crowning glory of his career, but I rather like his apartment building in Rue Belliard - one of the may secret architectural treasures of Paris.

And ow for some photographic indulgence...

Every surface is covered in coloured tiles
Deneux himself above the main entrance
Side entrance in Rue Tennis

And more of those tiles