Beaux-Arts Architecture Artworks
Progression of Art
École des Beaux-Arts
Facing an interior courtyard, the École des Beaux-Arts building employs horizontal and vertical symmetry to create a sense of elegant balance. The raised first story of rusticated stone features a central arched doorway with arched windows on either side. Copies of noted art works, including the Apollo Belvedere, and the Dying Gaul, are placed between each of the windows, and in the horizontal band between the first and second stories, the names of noted artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo, are inscribed. Ionic columns with a Baroque-style capital frame the second floor's arched windows, while the third floor's rectangular windows are framed by square classical columns, and small panels containing cartouches. These details create a sense of variation and hierarchy, while the windows, placed with vertical symmetry, create upward movement.
The early work on the building (1819-32) was completed by François Debret, Duban's teacher. The two became working colleagues and, then, brothers-in-law when Debret married Duban's sister. Taking over the project in 1832, Duban pioneered the Beaux-Arts style with his innovative inclusion of decorative motifs within a classical form, based upon the proportionality and rational symmetry of Roman architecture. His use of decorative columns, arched windows, garlands, cartouches, and inscriptions became defining elements of Beaux-Arts architecture. He continued to work on the project for most of his life, designing the rest of the campus to frame the central building, shown here.
Stone, iron, glass - Paris, France
This monumental two-story building, built out of limestone, employs symmetrical columns and arches to convey a classical effect and these are combined with elements of a Renaissance palazzo. The building, occupying a wide but shallow site, is located on a hill directly across from the noted Neoclassical Panthéon (1758-90), and the garland band at the top of the first level of the library echoes a similar band on the Panthéon, mirroring and reflecting its surroundings. Inscriptions of the names of over 800 scholars on the façade help to communicate the building's purpose.
Visitors enter on the lower level through a central vestibule, which is decorated with murals of gardens and busts of French scholars, symbolizing the start of the search for knowledge. The reading room takes up the entire second level and unusually, the primary decorative elements of the building were placed here, rather than on the facade. The building was particularly innovative due to its internal cast iron framework, a new architectural material, and Labrouste's design pioneered the Beaux-Arts use of the latest technologies. In the reading room, this frame is celebrated, rather than concealed, with sixteen columns supporting a dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling. This, in addition to the large windows, create an impression of light and space. Both Labrouste's use of new materials and the openness of the reading room also had a significant influence, not only on the Beaux Arts movement, but on the later development of modern architecture.
Cast iron, glass, stone, limestone, masonry - Paris, France
In the 1800s British architecture focused on romanticized styles such as Tudor Revival and Gothic. As a result, examples of Beaux Arts buildings were rare. A dramatic and noted example, however, was Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace (1851), designed for the Great Exhibition in London of the same year. Built initially in Hyde Park, it was later relocated to an area of South London called Penge Common, where it remained from 1854 until its accidental destruction by fire in 1936, an event that was described by Prime Minister Winston Churchill as, "the end of an age".
Based on the model of a greenhouse, Paxton used prefabricated glass and iron, built off site and then set on concrete footings, to design the massive but light-filled exhibition space. The design of the building drew upon Beaux-Arts monumentality and symmetry but at the same time was remarkably innovative in employing industrial materials and processes, particularly the use of a new sheet glass method which made the structure possible. When created, it was the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building and it was hugely novel in that it did not require interior lighting. It's influence on the modern era is noted by historian Dora P. Crouch who wrote, "it seemed a new kind of space had been created - an indeterminate space that would become characteristic of the next century".
The façade of the Opéra Garnier, rising to a copper clad dome, emphasized by a pair of gilded statues on each side, and a statue of Apollo, the Greek god of art, at the center is both grand and opulent. At the same time, incorporating arched entrances on the first level and Corinthian columns on the second, the building conveys classical balance, strength, and solidity. The building's placement as the terminal axis of the Avenue de l' Opéra speaks of its importance to the community, while the many statues portraying Greek gods and busts of great composers along with marble friezes, symbolically communicate the building's purpose. Nearly eighty artists worked on the detailed ornamentation of the façade, employing a variety of materials and techniques, including new technologies such as electroplating.
Garnier's design won a competition for Napoleon III's commission of the new opera building. Whilst epitomizing Beaux Arts, the design also emphasized Garnier's view that no surface should be left undecorated. The building was constructed around a metal frame and this allowed for an incredibly spacious interior, renowned for its performance spaces and its grand staircase, all lavishly and symbolically decorated. Art historian Andrew Ayers wrote, "A giddy mixture of up-to-the-minute technology, rather prescriptive rationalism, exuberant eclecticism and astonishing opulence, Garnier's opera encapsulated the divergent tendencies and political and social ambitions of its era".
The building was internationally influential, becoming the model for theatres in Poland, the Ukraine, Brazil, Vietnam, and India, as well as other noted structures, including the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Washington, D.C. Library of Congress. It's also taken on a noted cultural life, becoming the setting for Gaston Leroux's famous novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910), which was adapted in later films as well as in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical.
Stone, marble, cast iron, glass - Paris, France
The Grand Palais
The façade of the Grand Palais emphasizes the imposing temple-like entrance by employing pairs of classical columns, and projecting towers, capped with monumental sculptures, as a framing device. Placed against a single vertical rectangular window, the statuary at the base of each tower draws the eye upward to the steel and glass barrel-vaulted roof. Wings with colonnades and statues symmetrically placed atop the balustrades create a linear flow. A grand effect is created, suggesting the sweep and range of the "monument dedicated by the Republic to the glory of French art", a phrase inscribed on one of its pediments.
Girault was inspired by Paxton's Crystal Palace (1851) as the use of an iron and steel framework with extensive glass made it possible to have enough light in enormous exhibition spaces before the arrival of electricity. Girault's glass vaulting, iron and steel framing, and reinforced concrete were technically innovative in a building almost a half-mile long. In style, his work first introduced the use of Art Nouveau ironwork to ornament the massive building. The statue groups, created by a number of sculptors, vigorously express both the tradition and power of French art. Georges Récipon's bronze quadriga, or chariot drawn by four horses, stands on top of the end of each wing, one depicting Immortality prevailing over Time, the other Harmony triumphing over Discord.
Girault studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in 1880 won the Prix de Rome, and the Grand Palais was one of his first major commissions when he returned to Paris. He supervised and worked with the architects Henri Deglane, Albert Louvet, and Albert Thomas in creating the building, meant as the major exhibition place for the Universal Exposition of 1900. As part of the project, he also created the Petit Palais (1897-1900), a trapezoidal building that incorporated elements of French architecture from the late 1600s to early 1700s. Both buildings reinforced France's leadership in architecture and have been recognized in the modern era as historical monuments. As a result of his work, Girault received a number of royal commissions for buildings in Belgium, and his architecture became the model for other museums both in Europe and South America.
Steel, iron, glass, and stone - Paris, France
Low Memorial Library at Columbia University
A long, wide flight of stairs draws the eye upwards to the temple-like portico, a colonnade of Ionic columns and a large rotunda. The entrance, elevated above the street, conveys a sense of imposing rationality and solidity, emphasizing the importance of the pursuit of secular knowledge, as the building overshadows the two smaller religious buildings built on either side. The design combines elements from Rome's Pantheon (113-125 C.E.) with a Greek cross plan, and windows modeled from the Roman Baths of Diocletian (298-306 C.E.), situating it within the classical tradition. The design and decoration of the building, however, also reinforces its role in preserving and communicating knowledge. An inscription above the portico honors Columbia's history and the interior of the building includes various symbolic mythological figures, including busts of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Zeus, ruler of the heavens, and Apollo, god of the arts as well as depictions of the philosopher Demosthenes and the playwrights Euripides and Sophocles.
McKim was renowned for his designs of libraries, also designing the Boston Public Library and the Morgan Library in New York City in which he combined classical references with elements drawn from the Italian Renaissance, as architectural historian Leland M. Roth wrote, his "formal training and innate sobriety provided clarity of form". In a similar vein, art critic Christopher Grey has characterized his work as "studied, reserved, archaeological", and his approach necessitated that every element and material met his exacting standards.
Columbia's President Seth Low, who financed the project with his own funds when the University was reluctant, commissioned the new library in 1895 as the first building of the Morningside campus. Named in honor of his father, the library, though it has been an administrative building since the 1930s, is the dominant feature of the campus and has been designated a New York City Landmark and a National Historic Landmark.
Stone, Connemara marble, green Vermont marble - New York City
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The iconic entrance to the museum is composed of three grand arches, each with a keystone bust of the Greek goddess Athena, representing wisdom. The arches are framed by pairs of freestanding Giant Order columns, so named because they extend through multiple stories. Medallions depicting Old Masters, including Michelangelo, Raphael, Durer, and Rembrandt are placed on either side above the arches, pointing to the building's function. The two wings, lower and slightly set back, emphasize the grandeur of the central rectangular section. Approached by a series of steps rising up from Fifth Avenue, the building has the effect of a monumental temple of art.
Richard Morris Hunt designed the façade, and, following his death, his son completed the plan. Due to funding issues, however, some of Hunt's original designs were altered considerably. For instance, the museum was built in Indiana limestone rather than the intended white marble. Hunt had also planned to include more decorative sculpture; the blocks of stone at the top of each pair of columns were to be carved to show the four great periods of art - Egyptian, Greek, Italian (Renaissance), and the modern - but, as the plan was not carried out, the heavy stones remained. Additionally, niches were created, but no statues were placed in them until 2019, when these have become the location for an annual commission. First on display were four works by Kenyan-American artist, Wangechi Mutu called The NewOnes will free Us. Despite these changes, when completed, one newspaper hailed the building as "the most monumental example of architecture in America" and art critic Albert Ten Eyck Gardner argued that the uncarved stones "introduce a welcome note of rugged simplicity into an otherwise self-consciously correct Beaux Arts design".
Indiana limestone, glass, iron - New York City, New York
Grand Central Terminal
An icon of New York City, Grand Central Station exemplifies the stately grandeur that the Beaux-Arts style gave to major train terminals, seen as defining monuments to the industrial age. Double columns frame each of three large arch windows, their steel lattice work and glass allowing light to flood into the interior. The geometric designs on the windows and skylights reinforce notions of industry as well as pre-empting Art Deco styles. Inside, the ceiling depicts the constellations and this was designed by architect Whitney Warren along with the French artist, Paul César Helleu and emphasizes the size and openness of the main concourse.
The exterior of the building is dominated by Jules-Félix Coutan's Glory of Commerce (1911-14), a 48-foot high statue that depicts Mercury, the Greek god representing trade and travel, standing on a large 13-foot clock with Hercules, representative of physical strength, and Minerva, goddess of wisdom and guardian of cities, on either side of him. With flared wings and a fierce attitude, an eagle, representing both Zeus, ruler of the heavens, and America, stands behind Mercury. As Whitney Warren wrote at the time, the façade was an "attempt to offer a tribute to the glory of commerce ... that this great enterprise has grown and exists, not merely from the wealth expended...but by the brain and brawn constantly concentrated upon its development".
Following a 1902 train collision that resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries, William J. Wilgus, New York Central railway's chief engineer, proposed that rather than a railroad yard with steam engines, the growing city needed a modern terminal with electric trains. Consequently, a design competition was held in 1903 and building began shortly afterwards. New York Central wanted their building to outshine Pennsylvania Station, on which work had begun in 1901. Although Penn Station was completed earlier, in 1910, Grand Central opened in 1914 as the largest train station in the world, covering 48 acres and including 44 platforms. In conjunction with the terminal, an area called the Grand Central Zone, surrounded the area with hotels, luxury apartment houses, and new office buildings, leading the New York Times to call it "a monument, a civic center...a city." The building is designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is a top tourist attraction. It has been used in countless films and television shows, where it has come to symbolize the city itself.
Bedford limestone, granite, Tennessee marble, Botticino marble, Caen stone, iron, glass - New York City, New York
This monument, honoring Thomas Jefferson, employs circular steps leading up to the protruding portico with its eight Ionic columns rising to a triangular pediment. The contrast between the rectangular portico and the building's colonnaded circular form, rising to a shallow dome, creates a sense of elemental and classical balance. Made of Vermont Imperial Danby white marble and open to the elements, the building resembles many classical temples, designed to be approached from any direction. At the same time, the building and its prominent location, pays homage to both the Roman Pantheon (118-125 C.E.) and Jefferson's design for the Rotunda (1822-26) at the University of Virginia. Adolph Alexander Weinman's relief, depicting five of the writers of the Declaration of Independence, is carved in the pediment.
In 1925 Pope had the winning design in the competition initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt for the proposed memorial, though Congress did not fund the project, and it wasn't until 1935 that the proposal was revived under President Franklin Roosevelt. The project was controversial at the time, as the Commission of Fine Arts argued that it would spoil the open view of Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan of Washington, and other argued against the cutting down of the mature cherry trees in the area. More importantly, in contrast to the rising modern style of architecture, the Beaux-Arts style was seen as out of date. As art historian Arthur Drexler wrote, "By the last years of Beaux-Arts influence in America, a classicism stripped of the Orders and sometimes even of ornament sought to keep pace with the emerging modern style. And yet one of the last major Beaux-Arts buildings... Pope's Jefferson Memorial...reasserted classical values."
Marble, limestone, granite Vermont Imperial Danby marble, Georgia marble, Tennessee marble, Indiana limestone, Minnesota granite, Missouri marble - Washington, D.C.