GARNIER, Charles


GARNIER, Charles
(1825-1898)
   Charles Garnier was the leader of the French academic tradition called the Beaux-Arts style, which was popular in France in the 19th century and in the United States in the early 20th century. Until the Impressionist painters resisted its influence in the last years of the 19th century, the Academy of Beaux Arts in Paris had exerted control over most of the artistic output in Paris during the 18th and 19th centuries, awarding scholarships, annual prizes, and even overseeing the selection of artists for major government commissions.
   In the 1860s, Garnier received the important commission for a massive opera house in Paris, to be the focal point of a massive urban renewal plan designed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann and sponsored by Napoleon III. The Opéra, as it is called, is a rectangular building in the middle of a diamond-shaped piazza with a trident-shaped configuration of streets coming out of its corners and cutting wide diagonal avenues through the neighborhood. It displays an amalgamation of historical styles that can be characterized as ornate Baroque. The building was constructed with cast-iron supports covered by stone, and thus its more modern construction method is hidden behind a historical style that features a two-story façade with a ground-floor arcade and large rectangular windows on the first floor flanked by paired columns and topped by a richly carved entablature. The building's sides are articulated by projecting bays and gilded statues, and a shallow dome rises up from the middle. The ornately carved exterior prepares the visitor for the vast interior foyer, in which a massive stair-case sweeps down from the upper foyer balcony, turns at the landing, and arrives, dramatically, at the entrance. The ornately decorated foyer provides a social context for spectators, who can move around the vast reception area and interact with this grand interior.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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