We are in temporary possession (thanks to Airbnb) of a very fine Art Déco house in Saint-Quentin, in the north of France. Saint-Quentin is called the “cradle” of Art Déco. After the city was almost completely destroyed in World War I, many of its buildings were rebuilt in a style that embodied modernity, luminosity, gaiety and optimism in the face of the horrors that had gone before; a style that was launched on the world in 1925 and came to be known as Art Déco.
Art Déco emphasises verticality and light.
Nothing is new under the sun: the Romanesque doorway of the post office echoes the facade of the basilica just across the square.
These two buildings, by the same architect, illustrate the sheer diversity of style that falls within the umbrella of Art Déco. On the right, number 13 draws on regional styles and materials, uniting Picard red brick with cement, stone and wrought iron, with a Flemish-style saw-tooth gable reaching for the sky. On the left, number 9 uses pseudo-African or south American motifs and textures in its pediment and bow windows.
Originally, this “phare” would have been glazed and illuminated. Sadly, it now presents a blind concrete face to the world.
In the Carillon music hall’s frieze, we see two bells ringing against a backdrop of luxuriant vegetation, reminiscent of a jungle.
The architect of the post office included the letters PTT (the old name of La Poste) in the ironwork.
Roses are a very common decorative theme in Saint-Quentin’s Art Déco buildings. If you look closely you can see that the flowers are all different – it seems they are not merely moulded but were individually carved into the fresh cement.
The characteristic Art Déco lettering style is used even when an establishment gets a new name.
I can’t help feeling that Saint-Quentin was fortunate (from an architectural point of view) that it was rebuilt after World War I and not after World War II, the bleak and inhuman doctrines of post-war modernism allowing little space for the whimsical detail and variety that bring a smile to your face as you wander through the city.