2025 Paris World Congress on Art Deco

Shanghai 2015 World Congress on Art Deco was a major event for the Old Shanghai lover community. Bringing dozens of delegates US, the Americas, Europe and Asia, it focused the Art Deco World’s attention to Shanghai heritage, thanks to organizer Historic Shanghai. It was also a great meeting place for Art Deco people and an introduction to the very few Art Deco societies in France and other European countries to ICADS (now Art Deco International). As explained to post “Art Deco in France” from 2014, Art Deco was not really well recognized in Europe then, particularly in France.

French speaking gathering of the 2015 World Congress on Art Deco

French speakers taking part to the Shanghai 2015 World Art Deco congress gathered for an informal meeting after one of the Congress diners at the former Cercle Sportif Français (today the Okura Garden Hotel). The conversation moved to the plan of having the World Congress on Art Deco in Paris in 2025, that seemed like a distant dream.

Now in 2021, Art Deco in France has gained a lot of exposure in the last years following the first Art Deco exhibition in Paris in 2015, “1925, when Art Deco dazzled the World“. This was followed by a massive Bauhaus exhibition in 2017 “L’esprit du Bauhaus“.

Another major event was creation of Paris Art Deco society, with a Facebook group with 6000 members. A new Art Deco society has opened in Vichy and the media exposure around the re-opening of the renovated Villa Cavrois in Lille area in 2015 shows that Art Deco is now getting a lot of attention in France.

Villa Cavrois, Croix near Lille

The best part is that the 2025 World Art Deco Congress in Paris has been confirmed, starting on 28th April 2025. An early version of the project has already been presented. This event will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the original exhibition and will be a great boost for Art Deco in France. The dream from Paris is now becoming reality. Surely a Shanghai delegation will join!

In April 2021, Art Deco International (formerly ICADS) has also introduced the first World Art Deco day, on 28th April. The date was chosen as the anniversary date of the opening of the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Lafuente article in Madrid paper

Spanish architect Alvaro Leonardo has been instrumental in the rediscovery of Spanish architect in Shanghai, Abelardo Lafuente. While being in Shanghai, he researched his thesis on his forefather. He has been back in Madrid for a couple of years and his thesis is now completed, though only in spanish. His work is starting to get attention, like in this recent article in major Madrid daily Diaro ABC (in Spanish only).

Like for most Shanghai architects, their legacy was lost for many years and has only recently reappeared. It is then a struggle to find back information and an even bigger struggle to achieve recognition in their home country, so far away and after so many years. Congrats to Alvaro for this article!

Staying on Rue Colbert

Spending a staycation around the Yu Garden area became a great way to enjoy an overlooked part of Old Shanghai, before it disappears. Bordering the Renmin Lu (former Boulevard des deux Républiques), the building hosting the hotel occupied a complete block, with a great view in all directions.

Hotel location on a very old map

Above map shows the location of the block, at the cross Renmin Lu, Xinyong’an Lu and Yong An lu. Although the hotel is mostly known for its proximity to Yu Garden, it’s view on the former French concession that really interested me.

Boulevard des deux républiques (carte 1932)

Renmin lu was originally a canal, like many streets in Shanghai including today’s Yanan Lu (see post “Crossing the Yang Jing Bang” for more details). As the South border of the French Concession, it was called “Quai des fossés”, meaning “pit quay” in English), and was facing the North part of the Shanghai city wall. The city wall was teared down in 1912, the canal was filled and turned into a street called “Boulevard des deux Républiques”, meaning two republics Boulevard, i.e. the French Republic and the newly formed Chinese Republic. The Chinese name was and still ease “Renmin Lu”, republic street. Along with Zhong Hua lu, litteraly China street, making a circle following the former city wall, they form “Zhong Hua Ren Min”, meaning “The people of China”.

Xinyong’an Lu, was one of the early roads of the early French Concession, called “Rue Colbert”. One block down from the main road Rue du Consulat (today Jinling Road), it was the original seat of the Shanghai General hospital. Xinyong Lu was called “Rue Laguerre”, after French Commodore Adolphe Laguerre, who helped liberate Shanghai city from the Small Swords Society in 1855.

The whole area was covered with lanes, or Lilong housing many people and shops. In 1937, the block where the hotel is now located had 1200 inhabitants, with 33 Europeans and 70 shops. Shaped as a triangle, it could offer a very long line of shops. The building was on the border between the Chinese city and the back street of the French Bund. Located close to the Northern gate of the Chinese city, it must have been a great location for shops.

The opposite block was much larger, housed 2000 people including 49 Europeans and only 30 shops. Those Europeans were mostly living in the Saint-Anne building, a long 6 storey building on the side of Rue du Consulat, that was the highest building on this part of the French Concession.

The opposite corner from the sky

It was great to give a last look to this area that is now scheduled for redevelopment, as the opposite corner has already been emptied of its inhabitants and will surely massively change in the coming years. The other side of Route Colbert must have been built with similar kind of housing. A few year ago, this stretch of the street was a great spot for being ribbons, knots, fabrics and was needed for sewing.

wheelbarrows on Rue Colbert (Picture virtualshanghai)

Above picture shows the half way between de rue Laguerre corner and the river. The first building is the back of the Butterfield & Swire godown (warehouse). Being close to the French Bund, or Quai de France, and with a major trading company this part of the street must have been busy with warehouses and coolies. This is very different nowadays as the river front is not used for unloading cargo anymore. Route Colbert nowadays is a much quieter street.

Mr Loo’s pagoda in Paris

Mr Loo, the novel of an Asia art dealer” is a post I wrote in November 2014 about the book by Géraldine Lenain focused on CT Loo the main Chinese antic dealer in the early to mid 20th century and a colorful character (Follow this link to original post for more details). CT Loo lived three nearly parallel lives in China, France and the USA. His former Paris gallery shaped like a pagoda is probably his most visible creation. Modern pictures of the building are easy to find, but I recently found a much older one.

Amazingly, the building existed before taking this shape in 1925. It was of Louis Philippe style building and surely less visible in Paris landscape. The tour de force of CT Loo and architect Fernand Bloch was to turn it into a classical Chinese style building. Inside was also changed to reflect the outside Chinese style. Interestingly, it seems to be the only noticeable building by Fernand Bloch.

Although there is no date for the picture, people’s dress style and the car visible in the picture make it possible to date it to end of the 1920s or early 1930s. This was probably shot in the months or years after completion. At a time when the only pictures of foreign country were black and white, and people did not really travel, it must have been a real shock for Parisians to see it and a great advertising for CT Loo.

Modern view of the pagoda

Being so different from the surrounding buildings, the pagoda is still an amazing view in today’s Paris. The pagoda is located 48 Rue de Courcelles, in Paris 8th district. For more details about the original owner CT Loo, follow this link.

French Master of Shanghai Art Deco

Le Petit Journal Shanghai edition has republished an article about Art Deco in Shanghai, focusing mostly on the work of Léonard, Vesseyre and Kruze firm. I wrote the article together with my friend David Maurizot in 2018.

The article is in French only and can be found following the link below:

https://lepetitjournal.com/shanghai/a-voir-a-faire/promenade-historique-les-maitres-francais-de-lart-deco-shanghai-221435

It’s a great way to enjoy autumn in Shanghai.

Béla Mátrai, Hungarian architect in Shanghai

Having lived for years in Budapest before coming to Shanghai, I still feel connected to Hungary after all those years (see post Budapest Old and New). As explained in post ” Looking for Hudec“, discovering about the Hungarian architect in 2008 was a big surprise and I could see the parallel with my own travel from Budapest to Shanghai, actually visiting Hudec alma mater during one of my trips there. At the same time, it was also an eye opener into the incredible vitality of Hungary’s architecture before and after WW1 (see post Budapest Art Deco for more details).

Thanks to the research of the Livia Szentmartoni Consul for Culture at Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, it turns out that Hudec was not the only Hungarian architect in town. Her 2019 book as put Karoly Gonda’s work into light, and while both Hudec and Gonda came from Hungary, there was little connection beetween both. 2020 brought news of another Hungarian architect in Shanghai, Béla Mátrai.

Picture National Archives of Hungary / János Mátyás Balogh

Just like Hudec, Mátrai was a Hungarian trained architect, taken prisonner during WW1, sent to Siberia and finally arriving in Shanghai in the 1920s. It is unknown whether both men knew each other before Shanghai, but Mátrai worked a number of years for Lászlo Hudec firm. He is part of the team creating Park Hotel, a project that lasted from 1929 until completion of the building in 1934. Mátrai was listed as “field assistant to Laszlo Hudec” (source Poncellini 2007). Although unverified, it is very likely that he was also involved in other major Hudec projects before Park Hotel, including The Grand Theater and the Women College of Université Aurore.

In a similar way to Hudec a few years before, he left Hudec firm sometime in the early 1930s to create his own firm. One of his first design was the Modernist apartment building on 273 Route Culty (today Hunan Lu), completed in 1934. He had is office on 278 Route Culty, on the other side of the street.

273 Hunan Lu – Picture Livia Szentmartoni

Interestingly, I had recently visited an apartment in this building, while noticing the floor tile pattern (see post “More on tile pattern” for more details). Here is below a picture of the South garden side, that cannot be seen from the street.

The design of the apartment was very modern with 2 large bedrooms, a large combined dining and sitting room. Kitchen was very much in original condition, including the original wall mounted foldable ironing board. The apartments in this building also have an underground cellar, which is very rare in Shanghai.

The large South oriented windows gave a lot of light and a very modern feeling. I am not sure how it feels with the cold and damp Shanghai winter, though. It was definitely a modern apartment for a wealthy modern family in the 1930s.

According to official Hungarian sources, Mátrai married a Russian lady in 1924. They had 2 children, Margit & Jeno. They divorced in 1935 and Mátrai married Lucy (Ludmila) Dobrjansky. At the end of his time in Shanghai, he sent his children away in 1947 and left Shanghai on 13th March 1948. He settled with Lucy in Glen Ellen (Sonoma, California). Lászlo Hudec settled and died in Berkeley, California… about 80 km away. Somehow, Mátrai followed Hudec path for most of his life.

Saint Therese Church

This church is hidden in the labyrinth of lanes from 370 Da Tian Lu, currently in Jing An district. When I first found out about it, it was really difficult to see from the outside as the whole are area was surrounded with blocks and block of lane. This area has now changed tremendously, with most of the blocks now transformed with tower blocks and sometimes a park. This picture from my friend Shi was a good opportunity to write a post about Saint Therese Church.

There is very little information about Saint-Therese of the Child Jesus (or Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus as it is known in French) to be found. The Catholic Church was built in 1931, on the spot of former Saint-Joseph Church damaged during 1927 fights. It is of neo-roman style, with double front columns. Construction started on 30th Octobre 1930 and the Church was consecrated on 3rd October 1931 by Mgr Auguste Haouisée, who later became the first bishop of Shanghai.

Saint Therese de Lisieux was a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who became widely venerated in the 20th century. She was canonized in 1925, and named co-patron of the missions, with Francis Xavier by Pope Pius XI in 1927. As Saint-Therese was highly venerated at this period, the dedication to her was an obvious choice. Mentions of several Churches dedicated to her in Asia around the same period were found during the research for this post, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Hangzhou and Saint Theresa Cathedral in Changchun.

What makes this Church special in Shanghai is that it is a Catholic Church located in the International Settlement, where Christians missions where mostly seated. It is away from the French Concession, where Catholic Church was predominant, as well as away from Xu Jia Hui Jesuits area. It is also in a area that was mostly Lilongs, the local style of accommodation, away from the areas where most foreigners lived, so probably aimed and maybe financed by the local population.

More on tile patterns

In post “Déjà vu from Shanghai to Paris”, I looked into a strange tile pattern and color scheme that I saw both in Shanghai and in Paris. I believe the tiling below was imported from France.

The famous pattern
Floor tiling in FONCIM

The tiling pattern is sophisticated and used in Art Deco interiors, including on the Normandy steamship. Like many things in China, the original one was probably imported, then it got copied, changed and adapted for local production.

I happened to recently visit a building on Hunan Road (former French Concession), with a very similar tile pattern.

Like the original one in the FONCIM, it is used in the common areas, building entrance. The main differences are the color scheme and material used. The color scheme is definitely less elegant than the original. Material is different, as terrazzo (typical from original Art Deco) have been replaced by stripes of marble. Usage of marble is frequent in Chinese architecture, so I guess this tiling was designed by a Chines architect inspired by LVK work, or maybe for a Chinese client. To confirm this theory, the building were I took the picture was definitely built a few years later than the original FONCIM.

Update October 2020: It turns out that this particular building was built by Hungarian architect Béla Mátrai.

Art Deco in Minhang district

On the way to visit Qibao Old town, in Minhang district, I was not expecting to see any Art Deco architecture. This part of Shanghai used to be a separate village in the countryside, reachable by boat, crossing the swamps over the small rivers that were surrounding Shanghai then. The trip would have been shorter, but similar to the one to Sheshan (see post Climbing Zo Se for more details).

Although Old Shanghai was one of the largest cities in the World in the 30’s with more than 3 million inhabitants, its footprint was much smaller than today’s Shanghai. If early 20’s century architecture, in particular Art Deco, can be found in the center of Shanghai, it is unheard of outside of today’s first ring road. The only exception being Hudec Laszlo’s Catholic Country Church, built then in the countryside, now located in the residential area of Hong Qiao (picture above) in Changning district.

I was then really surprised to discover this Art Deco building close to Qibao Temple. It was hidden between a large advertising poster and seems to be soon to be demolished, but the style was impossible to miss. How could an Art Deco building end up here?

The mystery did not last for long, as although the style was very much modernist / Art Deco, the cover of small tiles is typical of the 1980’s architectural style in China. This building is the former Minhang phone exchange. This kind of building seems to have crossed through time more or less unchanged, just like the ones in the former French Concession or the Former International Settlement. It was probably the first modern building in the area, and like in other cases, architects in the 80’s reused techniques and styles from the late 30’s or 40’s. Architecture did not change much in the meantime in China, so the modern ideas of Old Shanghai were still modern 40 years later. As new technology allowed larger buildings, this lead to Frankenstein Art Deco (see post Frankenstein Art Deco for more details).

Even if it was out of fashion for more than 40 years went it was built, it must have been the top of modernity in this rural surroundings… and somehow it still is very modern. Too bad it will soon go down.

Déjà Vu from Paris to Shanghai

Art Deco floor tiles pattern
Pattern on Jian Guo Lu

With its mix of influence, Old Shanghai had bits of pieces coming from all over the World including Beaux Arts style, Art Deco, Andalusian, Mexican revival, New Normand, German, traditional Japanese to name a few. They all added up and sometimes got inspired by traditional local style or its modern incarnation, neo confusion (sometimes called Republican style). While walking around in Old Shanghai, it’s sometimes surprising to see details that are heavily influenced by another place.

FONCIM D, by LVK (thanks Shanghai kat for the picture)

I have been fascinated by the floor tiling pattern in the picture up, since I discovered it a few years ago. The original picture was taken on the ground floor of the FONCIM D building (1933) at the corner of Jian Guo lu and Gao An lu. The building was designed by the firm Leonard, Vesseyre & Kruze (or LVK) (See post ” Shanghai Art Deco master” for more details or my article, in French, in Lepetitjournal.com Shanghai edition). The firm was highly creative and the building was designed for their largest client, the FONCIM real estate investment firm, so I first assumed it was unique.

Similar floor patter (picture ShanghaiKat)

The only other similar pattern I found was in a villa on Yong Jia Lu, a few hundred meters from the FONCIM building. The area was built by the LVK firm (Leonard and Vesseyre’s personal homes are nearly opposite from this building), including this one, probably from the mid 30’s. The tiling shape is slightly different, with the beige stripe wider, but still very similar. This was the only place were I saw this pattern until a recent trip. A later found a similar pattern with different colors in a building on Hunan Lu (see post more on tile patterns).

The same pattern

Having diner in Paris a few days ago, I realized that the early 1900’s building had been extended by an Art Deco part with the tiling on the picture right. It took a while to retrieve the Shanghai picture, but when confronting both, the similarity was striking. So the Shanghai Art Deco pattern was probably not the invention of LVK, but probably imported from France. Looking for more about this pattern, I received a big help from my friends of the France Art Deco Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/franceartdeco).

Kitchen of the NormandieA similar pattern was used for the flooring of the kitchen of flagship cruiser SS Normandie. Launched in 1935, SS Normandie was the largest cruise ship of its time, a floating palace fully designed in Art Deco Style. Because of WW2, it only operated a few years before sinking in New York in 1942, but it is still a legend in term of cruise ships, technological achievement and as an Art Deco masterpiece. Exemple of the ship’s decoration was shown in the Paris Art Deco exhibition in 2014 (see post “1925, when art deco dazzled the World” for more details).

Chef en cuisine
Chef en cuisine on the Normandie

Unfortunately, all pictures of the Normandie are black and white, so it’s impossible to know the original color of the kitchen tiling, but in any case it looked quite similar to the one used by LVK on Jian Guo Lu. As the pattern originated from France and it is so rare in Shanghai, it is likely that the actual tilling was imported from France. Shanghai was a modern city, in touch with the latest fashion in the World… just like it is today.