Some Beaux-Arts Quotes

A variety of definitions, characterizations, commentaries, and condemnations of "Beaux-Arts" and of the "City Beautiful":

The Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996, defines: "Beaux-Arts style. Term applied to a style of classical architecture found particularly in France and the U.S.A. that derived from the academic teaching of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The style is characterized by its formal planning and rich decoration. The term is also found in writings by detractors of the Ecole's teaching methods and results ... For Paris-trained architects, however, issues of style were in general secondary to the more permanent tenets of the doctrine put forward by the Ecole."

and by contrast, "Edwardian style. Term used to describe the architecture produced in Great Britain and its colonies in the period from 1890 to 1914, with the reign of Edward VII (1901-10) at its core, hence its name. It covers a multiplicity of styles, with five main strands: Gothic Revival ...; 'free style', developed by architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement; Neo-Georgian ...; Baroque Revival ...; and a French influence derived from the Beaux-Arts style ... While many agreed on the need for a generally accepted national style for Britain, there was no consensus on what that style should be. From this confused background these five strands emerged." (Sally Coutts has pointed out this "style" to me, as the term has been applied to some of the buildings I am covering. However, since none of the architects here had a British link to this style, but all were American- and/or French-influenced, I am not using the term).

Prof. Isabelle Gournay, author of the above definition of "Beaux-Arts", wrote: "The best known and most ridiculed examples of the Beaux-Arts style are major pavilions at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris. ... Over 400 Americans studied architecture in Paris between 1846 and 1918, and many more followed a French-inspired curriculum in the USA, where the Beaux-Arts style had its greatest impact outside France. ... The traditional Beaux-Arts style became obsolete after 1918. ... The late 20th century rehabilitation of the style originated in the exhibition "The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, organized by Arthur Drexler in New York."

Jacques Gréber, Professor of Ladscape Architecture, wrote "The Architecture of the United States" in 1920, a comprehensive illustrated account in two volumes, in French, subtitled "proof of the force of expansion of French genius: happy association of admirably complementary qualities". It covered the influence of French architecture in the US on American Architects, such as McKim & White, Carrère & Hastings, J.R. Pope, H.H. Richardson,, Cass Gilbert, D.H. Burnham, Horace Trumbauer, Warren & Wetmore, Greber's friend Bosworth, etc. for Country Houses, Gardens, Apartment Houses, Farm Houses, Hotels, Clubs, Commercial Bldgs., Railroad Stations, Schools, Universities, Libraries, Museums, Churches, Hospitals, Gov't. Bldgs., and Exhibition Bldgs. He said "American architects, trained in the principles of French architecture, have not disappointed their teachers. ... One must say above all that they have sought in the pure lines of classical art, an expression of art, devoid of decoration, of excesses, of useless additions, and which lacks neither grandeur nor distinction." and also in 1920 on the 1915 Holt Commission plan for Ottawa, by Edward Bennett:"Ottawa is developing a splendid program of embellishment on the banks of its river and foresees a complete growth plan that the Federal Plan Commission has published and which represents a lesson in urban planning put into practice, that is most interesting for us (in France)." A copy of this book was donated to the Ottawa Public Library by J. Albert Ewart.

Vanlaethem and Gournay in "Montreal Metropolis 1880-1930" wrote in 1998: "The cultural diversity of Montreal's architectural milieu made the city a uniquely receptive locus for international debates on architecture. Its cosmopolitanism was the result of immigration and a cultural openness fostered by American competition and foreign training. Foreign experience is highly visible in Montreal; major players on the American scene built many of the city's prominent buildings, often collaborating with the city's best known architects. After the Richardsonian Romanesque, the Beaux-Arts movement became hugely popular, the ideal of superiority it embodied appealing as much to architects seeking to enhance their prestige as to clients concerned with making a distinguished mark on the urban landscape. Beaux-Arts interpretations varied, some focusing on formal rationalism, others exploring a more decorative approach. ... Although there was unanimity over the capacity of Beaux-Arts architecture to express civic grandeur, the universality of its language was challenged by supporters of the Arts and Crafts movement - particularly Professor Percy Nobbs of McGill University, who was the first to elaborate a national, specifically Canadian architecture. Outside the residential sector, however, Nobbs's theory had little impact on the city's architecture. ..."

Arthur Drexler, Director, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art, New York, (credited with reviving respect for Beaux-Arts), wrote on "The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts", in 1975: "It is scarcely surprising that once again architects agree about very little concerning the nature of their art. Indeed, if there is one thing about which they do agree. at least enough to sign manifestos and march on picket lines, it is the necessity of preserving what is left of Beaux-Arts architecture wherever it may be found. Reviled during the first quarter of the century, and forgotten until the 60's, ... the architecture taught and practiced by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts again rewards thoughtful study."

Joseph Martin, acting director of the National Gallery of Canada, for Drexler's exhibition in 1976, wrote: "It is perhaps appropriate in this year of the American bicentennial, to celebrate another of the ways ­ besides the British Connection ­ in which the art and architecture of France reached Canada and found a home here. Many buildings great and small, all across Canada, bear witness to the direct, and throught the United States, indirect influence that the Ecole des Beaux-Arts style of architecture had, and, subtly, continues to have."

Donald Drew Egbert in "The Beaux Arts Tradition in French Architecture", (the leading English language work on this subject), Princeton NJ, 1980, wrote: "Academic training places emphasis on the study of compositional theory and traditional principles of formal design, as the most important aspect of the architect's training. ... Professors are supposedly acquainted with the 'best' design principles as exemplified in great buildings or architectural books of the past, especially those of the classical tradition. ... Although (its) ascendancy began to decline in the 1920's and 1930's, ideas ultimately stemming from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts continue to play an important role in architectural education."

Prof. Jacques Lachapelle in his Ph.D. thesis, Laval, 1994, wrote: "In the history of Canadian Railway Architecture, the exterior of Ottawa Station is distinguished by its style, its sobriety, and its monumentality, ... It was not until the late nineteen-fifties and early sixties that the concept of gigantic free-standing buildings re-emerged. However, the pioneering work of Ross and Macdonald (and MacFarlane) seems to have been forgotten, cloaked in a style that has been too often subject to blanket condemnation". (translated from French by David Jeanes)

On tall office buildings: Sarah Bradford Landau and Carl W. Condit in "Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913", pp. 184-5, 191: "The new style of the 1890s, which in fact embraced many varieties of classicism, including that of the Italian Renaissance, is today often called Beaux-Arts in acknowledgement of the French orientation and training of architects in this period" ... "As for the principles of symmetry, axiality, and sequential spaces fundamental to the Beaux-Arts aesthetic, except in those rare cases of the freestanding tower, these were confined almost entirely to the architectural treatment of the main elevation and to the entrance and elevator lobby" ... "Along with the imposing new civic and public architecture of the period, skyscrapers reflected the ruling features of the commercial city as they approached maturity under the combined influences of Beaux-Arts principles and the mastery of high-building technology".

Prof. Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, on "Jacques Gréber's Plan and the 'Washington of the North'", in 2000, wrote: In 1893, Sir Wilfrid Laurier ... presented his vision for Ottawa: 'to make the city of Ottawa as attractive as possibly could be; to make it the centre of intellectual development of this country; and above all the Washington of the North' ... the use of monumental axes, radiating avenues, and classical architecture -- the City Beautiful Movement. ... This Beaux-Arts dream for Ottawa persisted well into the twenthieth century; and in 1945, under the direction of Prime Minister Mackenzie King it was manifested in M. Jacques Gréber's Plan for the National Capital. ... he did not achieve this City Beautiful dream."

Frederick Todd in 1903: "Considerable has been said recently about Ottawa being made the "Washington of the North." Many of the beauties of Washington are certainly well worthy of imitation, but it would be a mistake to copy too closely, even if it were possible, the plans which have proved so successful there, for the location of the two cities is so absolutely different, that what has made the beauty of one, might mar the beauty of the other. .... Thus it is absolutely impossible to treat these two cities in the same manner, for a plan which would be ideal for Washington would be ill adapted for Ottawa, whose picturesque situation must obviously form the foundation and key-note of any proposed plans for the future."

Percy Nobbs, professor of architecture atMcGill: "The schools of architecture which have professed an exact science of proportion as a thing which can be taught have failed absolutely to leave behind them monuments of any human interest. Cold stones at the best. I refer particularly to the influence of Vitruvius." (Canadian Architect & Builder v17-10-163, 1904), but on the other hand, "My admiration for French draughtsmanship is unbounded. These Prix de Rome drawings by students of the Beaux Arts speak for themselves. The delicacy, insight, knowledge and skill of the French draughtsman is something on an altogether different level from our rough English work and I can only envy him his clever fingers. There is much that the English draughtsman would do well to copy from his French brother. .. if our English architectural student were to be trained to the same standard of draughtsmanship I fear he would never learn very much architecture." (Canadian Architect & Builder v17-2-40,1904)