Exploring Paris and its tile treasures

Paris And The Legacy Of French Architectural Ceramics

Exploring Paris and its tile treasures

Twenty two years ago my wife and I  traveled to Paris and Spain on our first trip to Europe. We spent a month looking for tiles, art, and pastries. We have been back to Europe multiple times with the same mission, a scavenger hunt to find tiles and photograph them and to find out more information about each installation and draw inspirations from the tiles.

Paris And The Legacy Of French Architectural Ceramics

Published by Friends of Terra Cotta

This past February we were on a mission to document the tiles with videos telling a more modern story with historical information about each installation.  Also I have been recreating tiles from my travels to bring them back to life in the Clay Squared tile lines. We had a great tool at our disposal, the Paris and the Legacy of French Architectural Ceramics by Friends of Terra Cotta, published in 1997. The book describes and identifies 130 historic tile installations throughout Paris and has a map to find the installations. 

The cover of the Paris and the Legacy of French Architectural Ceramics has always been an inspiring image of a tile installation. When we first arrived in Paris in 2002 we were having breakfast in our hotel and I asked the waiter if he knew about this tile installation. My French was bad and still is. He looked at the image and asked is that Chocolate? We laughed and realized we were on our own to figure out how to find these tile gems, but thanks to this waiter we always referred to the project on the cover as the “chocolate tiles.” 

This tile installation is actually the Campagne Premiere facade and is probably one of my favorites. It was created by prolific tile maker Alexandre Bigot in 1911.  Located at 31 rue Campagne Premiere, Paris this installation has it all including high relief floral roses projecting out around 9" from the facade. There are many low relief florals and ceramic balls that are 2" - 4" projecting out. When you walk up to the building you will feel invited by all caramel chocolate tones of the textured impressed designs that make more floral patterns when connected together, that also showcase a full range of color variations in the square and scallop like shape tiles. It is a feast for the eyes.  What is striking for me is both the complexity of the art tiles that are clearly handmade as they are not perfectly rectified but they are very well organized and designed. The tile setting craftsmanship is excellent making the installation look like a chocolate store where you can come and pick out your favorite treat. Amazingly enough all the tiles are in excellent condition. No chips or broken tiles anywhere. Fun Fact: the famous American artist Man Ray had lived in this building back in the 1920s

Architect Mural On 185 Building

185 rue Belliard by architect Henri Deneux

In my research we cannot find specific names to the buildings other than the street names so we usually create names for them. Another building we found on this trip we called this one the Paris Alhambra. We had never found this installation in our other two hunts. This tile facade that wraps the building at 185 rue Belliard by architect Henri Deneux built in 1913. It features dynamic tile design patterns that are reminiscent of Islamic tile designs you would see at the Alhambra in Spain but in super large scale. Using only a couple sizes of tiles. The main tiles used are made up of 5” x 5" tiles and are placed in an unusual pattern where they leave large grout lines of many inches. The tile facade leaves you with more questions of how they achieved this unique tile facade. My main question goes out to the  tile setters. Traditional grout lines max out at 1/4" and a 1/2" is a huge grout line. This one had spacing of over 8” in many places. We are looking for our tile setter friends to chime in and tell us your thoughts on how this was installed. The tile patterns are amazingly equally spaced out and line up from horizontal to vertical throughout the facade. This seems like it would have taken an amazing feat of skill and patiences to install this tile design. There are many optical illusions because of the tile design that give the viewer multiple shapes to view; from stars to circles. There are dimensional cone tiles protruding from the wall that look like they are metallic but they are definitely made of clay. This installation was off on an unassuming street but it was just a sparkling display of creativity and craftsmanship.

It is always fun to relive a great experience. The Choisy showroom of the earthenware tile factory back in 1890 is a time capsule gem of the Paris Art Nouveau tile world. It includes over a dozen large scale handmade painted tile murals and over 20 tile floor rugs featuring encaustic tiles and mosaics. When we first found this tile location in 2002 it was our last day of our month-long trip, needless to say we were a little scraggly from our travels. We were outside the gate looking into the space and were in awe of the murals from what we could see, when a very well dressed woman was leaving and she asked in French what we were doing. I told her I was a tile maker and she realized we were Americans and she was too. She said there were many more inside and let us in. She said she had to ask her boss to see if it was alright if we could come in. As we went up to the second floor we could see on the back left corner a group of super models and their Go-see. Our new friend went to ask her if we could see the tiles in the building. We could see the Go-see glare at us and look us up and down. I could read her lips from across the room clearly saying Noooo!! Our new friend in her stilettos clipped as fast as she could across the tiled floors and told us we had to leave immediately. I started taking photos and running to get out of the building. We laughed so much from that experience being chased out by Parisian supermodels. 

Choisy Showroom Tile Murals In Atrium

Choisy Showroom Tile Murals In Atrium

Now 20 years later it has been transformed into a business school and the gate was open and we got right in and were able to make a video of all these amazing Art Nouveau tile mural  installations. All were in mint condition. What is great to realize is I have seen many of the designed floors and similar murals all over Paris in the entryways and some of the buildings we had been hunting for. Many must have come from this tile showroom. 

Tile exploring a city has been a great way for us to discover Paris and many other cities. We crisscross the neighborhoods and streets that locals only travel. We get to see how Parisians live and enjoy their city without the hustle and bustle of the tourist trade. On our walks through the streets we discover dozens of pastry shops and restaurants to pop in and get needed substance for our trek around the city. We have learned to have really good shoes and be prepared for quick weather changes. All the walking 10 -15 miles a day (we estimate over 3 weeks 200 miles) allows us to offset our pastry intake. It is a fabulous way to travel.

 


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