The theatre armchairs of the Salle Humbert de Romans and their re-discovery
13 January 2021
Almost nothing remains of what was one of Hector Guimard’s masterpieces, the Salle Humbert de Romans, built on rue Saint-Didier in Paris from 1898 to 1901 for a real estate company with uncertain capital founded by a Dominican friar. This patronage, which included a huge auditorium, was doomed to commercial failure so certain and so rapid that it disappeared before 1905, leaving only its plans, a handful of photographs, a large organ currently located and a few seats that were found much later. Without any exaggeration, this is a waste comparable to the disappearance of Victor Horta’s Maison du peuple, with the difference that the Salle Humbert de Romans did not even have time to enter the memory of Parisians.
The Salle Humbert de Romans, ancient postcard no. 22 from the series Le Style Guimard published in 1903. Private collection.
Around 1900, to equip this theatre, Guimard designed several models to be executed in cast iron. He had already worked with the Durenne foundry, notably for Castel Béranger, and was in the midst of the construction of the Paris metro, whose castings were in demand at the Val d’Osne. Guimard left these two large companies in the Haute-Marne to turn to a third, smaller foundry in the same department, the Saint-Dizier foundry. This was the beginning of a collaboration that would undoubtedly last beyond the First World War and which would lead to the publication in 1908 of a very extensive catalogue of Guimard’s specific models.
The theatre armchairs
The cast iron models are primarily used for theater seats with lift-up seats, but also for balustrade designs, cloakroom supports, consoles and radiator cover panels. All of these cast irons were produced and installed before 1901. At that time, Guimard probably did not envisage their edition for the general public, although he may have considered reusing the model of the show chair for other venues. When the time came to put together a catalogue of models for their edition by the foundry, he would no doubt consider that most of the models created for the Salle Humbert de Romans were too specific or too stylistically dated to be included in the catalogue. He simply took the design of the radiator covers and transformed it into a design for a stone balcony railing.
Two armchairs originating from the Salle Humbert de Romans. Private collection. Photo Auction France.
However, he did include in the catalogue this model of armchair leg with the code GA, at plate 40, in the hope of having it reproduced for other theatres, which, to our knowledge, did not happen. Note that in this illustration from the foundry catalogue, the backrests are mounted head to foot.
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