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Franco-African Art Nouveau

We followed the address given us for the “Osez l’Afrique” exhibition sponsored by Aude Minart’s Galerie Africaine until November 20th without previously realizing the significance of number 60 rue la Fontaine.

Rue la Fontaine in the 16th arrondissement is a 16th-century street whose name comes from a fountain that provided drinking water to Parisians for centuries. Marcel Proust was born on this street at number 96, but it is best known by architectural aficionados everywhere for its line-up of Art Nouveau buildings, mostly designed by Hector Guimard. He is the architect who is responsible for the Art Nouveau Métro entrances all over Paris.

The Castel Béranger at number 14 (1898) has graced almost every architectural guide to Paris and at number 17, Café Antoine (a.k.a. Bar Antoine), in the corner of the Agar building (1912), has preserved an Art Nouveau hand-painted glass ceiling as well as tile floors. This tiny turn-of-the-century bar has been one of my favorite dining spots for more than 10 years. A friend who lives nearby considers it her “cantine” and vies from time to time with another regular who insists on sitting always at the same table. Be sure to reserve as seating is limited to less than 20 (01-40-50-14-30).

We stopped before the Hôtel Mezzara in awe before entering the exhibition. Here is home to the Ministère de l’Education Nationale Annexe du Lycée d’Etat, Foyer de Lycéennes. Constructed in 1910-1911 for Paul Mezzara, it was sold to the Lacascade sisters in 1930 and later donated to the l’Education Nationale. Today it is an exhibition space and is considered one of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Paris.

The interior spaces are vast, accented by an elegant wrought iron stairwell and balcony. The ceiling has a glass roof adorned by small dangling wrought-iron chandeliers. An interior elevator is decorated with stained glass and the door frames are shaped and carved. A large picture window at the rear overlooks a beautiful garden.

Inside, the rough-hewn, colorful and dramatic collection of contemporary A

frican art was a harmonious compliment to the delicate floral design of the Art Nouveau interior appointments. I was pleased to see a hand-carved wooden vase with metal handles designed and crafted by an old friend, Jean-Servais Somian, Azuretti, of the Ivory Coast, whose ebony carved wood, glass and metal table graces my living room. Sculptures by Bonalair Marie (known professionally as MarieB), graced the room, with powerful smooth lines and dramatic poses. Paintings by Camara Gueye and Ibou Sall were striking contrasts with the pale sea foam colored walls.

The nature of the contemporary African art was a blend of primitive and sophistication, much like the Franco-African community that lays a thumbprint on the French landscape. Juxtaposed to Guimard’s delicate brush strokes, it was impactful and a pleasure to behold in these special surroundings.

It was an unexpected lesson in art and design on a mild and breezy autumn afternoon.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Make your plans to come have a coffee, Kir or whatever with all of us Parler Paris readers at Parler Paris Après Midi tomorrow Tuesday, November 14th, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information.

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