The metro according to Hector Guimard

The metro according to Hector Guimard

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  • Letter template for entrance exit sign

    GUIMARD Hector (1867 - 1942)

  • Have you ever seen the entrance to the Paris metro?

    BRASSAÏ Gyula Halász, known as (1899 - 1984)

To close

Title: Letter template for entrance exit sign

Author : GUIMARD Hector (1867 - 1942)

Dimensions: Height 42 cm - Width 114 cm

Technique and other indications: pencil drawing, Cgine ink, gouache, tracing paper

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice SchmidtLink to image

Picture reference: 01-017268 / GP1885

Letter template for entrance exit sign

© Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Have you ever seen the entrance to the Paris metro?

© Estate Brassaï - RMN-Grand Palais - Photo Center Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adam Rzepka

Publication date: March 2020

Historical context

Paris work of art

A cliché firmly associated with the city of Paris, endlessly renewed by cinema or TV reports, the "noodle style" characterizing the first Parisian metro stations is due to the imagination of Hector Guimard (1867-1942). His conversion to volute and "whiplash" is spectacular, as is his creative frenzy. His scenes, both living and composed, his original angles, his characters of solitary women and the sharp contrasts of his chiaroscuro become iconic.

Image Analysis

A poetics of everyday life

The Guimard collection of the Orsay Museum preserves hundreds of drawings made by Guimard in just a few years. Some, dealing with structures and sometimes including dimensions, are more architectural. Others, like the Graphics for the exit sign, entrance B, focus on what today would be called Design. The panel, which is to be reproduced hundreds of times on the quays, reworks the natural geometry of the capital letters of the vertical axis, giving it flexibility, apparently unbridled. In reality, several principles govern this transformation: truncated forms (O, T), the use of solid (S, E) and the use of sinuous appendages inspired by cursive writing. The play with the frame, from which two apices and the tail of the R emerge, energizes a series of letters with a functional vocation - hence the choice of black on a yellow background and the thickness, the highlights of white gouache to allow the light effects.

Guimard also left a number of cast sketches working precisely on the details of the ornamentation of the aedicule and surrounds. Its ornamental vocabulary is inspired by plants, its arabesques inspired Brassaï for the series entitled Have you seen the entrance to the Paris metro? The cliché Eat me ! answers this question less harmless than it seems. Indeed, if the first travelers and tourists who land in Paris are struck by this style, no one pays attention to it in their daily travels. The photographer deliberately chooses a frontal close-up that isolates the ornamentation from its context and gives a dreamlike tone to this strange object, as if from elsewhere, almost wonderful. The nocturnal light which is reflected in the metal makes you hesitate as to the material: it seems to have the hardness of stone and the suppleness of flesh.


The Paris metro, a brand

Despite the tense negotiations over financial matters, Guimard did not hesitate when the Compagnie du Métropolitain approached him, disappointed at the lack of originality of the projects received for the visual identity of the metro. With this commission, the young artist can achieve on a large scale the junction between the singularity of Art Nouveau and the principle of structural ornamentation of Viollet-le-Duc. The architect seeks first to popularize the new style he has just discovered and which is spreading at full speed in Europe. Like Otto Wagner in Vienna, or Horta in Brussels, he links reflection on the structures and the design of all the elements. This art breaking with classicism responds from one capital to another and marks their entry into the XXe century. The new architecture breaks free from norms and conventions, it prefers life to monumentality, plasticity to rigidity. The sponsors were not mistaken: useful and very frequented, the new means of transport seduces users with this modern touch and this style often criticized, but never imitated.

If the First World War halted the development of Art Nouveau and created a major break in European arts, freedom, chance and urban civilization were among the principles dear to the avant-garde of the interwar period. , surrealists in mind. The rejection of traditional subjects of official art - battles, great men - explains why nature is a privileged subject, a sign of modernity. The close-up preferred to the overview is here symptomatic of a choice as political as it is aesthetic. Brassaï is apparently inspired by scientific photography which reveals what we do not usually see; he adopts an entomologist approach and relativizes the creative gesture with a certain irony. On the other hand, the photographer exalts the singular in repetition, reveals to the public another universe under the apparent banality of everyday life, gives another meaning to this symbol of Parisian modernity. This play with sensitive reality, typical of modernism, is made possible by the very reflection of Guimard who, by working on the lettering of the panels and the style of the kiosks, created a triple inimitable trademark: his own, that of the metropolitan, and that of the French capital.

  • Metro
  • photography
  • Art Nouveau
  • Wagner (Otto)
  • Horta (Victor)
  • Paris
  • design
  • Decorative Art
  • rome price
  • Universal Exhibition of 1889
  • Miller (Henry)
  • Prévert (Jacques)


Frédéric Descouturelle, André Mignard and Michel Rodriguez, Guimard: The Art Nouveau of the metro, La Vie du Rail, 2012.

Jean-Claude Gautrand, Brassai, Paris, Taschen, 2004.

Roger-Henri Guerrand, The Metropolitan Adventure, Paris, La Découverte, 1999.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The metro according to Hector Guimard"


  • Art Nouveau: Style that developed from the end of the 19th century, first in Belgium and France. He thrives in architecture and the decorative arts. The search for functionality is one of the concerns of its architects and designers. Art Nouveau is characterized by forms inspired by nature, where the curve dominates.
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  • Prix ​​de Rome: Royal pension awarded at the end of a competition organized by the Academy from 1663 and which allowed laureates to stay at the Académie de France in Rome, installed in the Villa Medici in 1803.
  • World's Fair: A public presentation in which art and industry products from around the world are exhibited. The premiere took place in London in 1851.

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