From Boulogne to Nanjing

Passion for Shanghai and its Art Deco heritage (see post World Art Deco Congress Shanghai 2015) has pushed me to try and understand history and art history of the early part of the 20th century. Pursuing Art Deco and 1920-30’s anywhere I can (see posts about Antwerp, Paris, Lyon, Napier and many more to come), I only could end up in the Paris’ Museum of the 1930’s. Although as was attracted by the general topic, I found there a number of points related (often indirectly) to Shanghai.

Art Deco door of Boulogne Post Office
Art Deco door of Boulogne Post Office

Located in Boulogne-Billancourt (a close suburb to Paris) the museum current area was one of the points where Art Deco started. Many of the artists, workshop and factories that created Art Nouveau in 1900’s Paris moved to this (then) cheap location for expension in the beginning of the 20th century. As fashion in decorative art moved to Art Deco style, this is also where Art Deco emerged in France. The town was also developed by its mayor André Morizet after World War I. Calling for major architects of the time, including Tony Garnier, he organised the construction of the city center in a modern and urbanistic way, with a mix of Art Deco and modernist style. Some of the famous buildings of the area include the City Hall, the Main Post office (see picture) and the Central Police Station. Many more Art Deco and modernist building were constructed in the city at that time and a section of the museum is devoted to it.

Art Deco furniture, Boulogne 1930's museum, France
Art Deco furniture in the museum

The museum itself contains a large collection of furniture designed in the 30’s and it is striking to see the similarities to the ones made in Shanghai. Similar material were also used like wrought iron, although the woods used in Europe where often precious woods like palissandre and ebony, as opposed to the much more common woods used in Shanghai. As discussed in post Shanghai Art Deco furniture, Art Deco furniture in Europe were often the ones of the rich and priviledged, when in Shanghai it became much more common and available. Besides these differences, visiting the museum makes clear that the Art Deco in Shanghai came from Art Deco in Europe and the USA. Globalization of styles was truly started at that time… way before most people think.

Sun Yat Sen sculpture, by Paul Landowski

The Museum is part of a building called “Espace Landowski” and Paul Landowski left me with a big suprise. The French sculpture artist was obviously based in Boulogne-Billancourt. He became really famous in winning the 1928 olympic medal of… sculpture. That fame and links with the olympic movement will surely bring him a lot of attention again as his most wellknown piece is the Christ statue in Rio de Janero, an Art Deco wonder created in 1931. However, he is also the author of another major work mostly well known in China, the statue of Sun Yat Sen in the Nanjing Mausoleum (a copy of it was made for the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei). Paul Landowski’s fame became large enough for China to order this major achievement of Republican China from a French man, another example of globalization before its time.

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