Restoration of the Foyer at the Opéra Comique

1. Henri Gervex (1852-1929)
The Saint Lawrence Fair
Foyer of the Opéra-Comique
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

14/1/13 - Heritage - Paris, Opéra Comique - The restoration of the Foyer at the Opéra Comique has just ended and, for the premiere of David and Jonathas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the public will rediscover the superb space in this building known as the Salle Favart which was reconstructed for the third time by Louis Bernier (1845-1919) and inaugurated in 1898.
The restoration was carried out under the supervision of Pierre-Antoine Gatier, chief architect for historical monuments and thanks to funding by American patrons, here again, through the World Monument Fund and its donors [1], who contributed two-thirds of the one million euros needed to carry out the project ; the balance was provided by the State, which owns the building, listed as a historical monument in 1977.
The Foyer did not present any structural problems but the décor was extremely dirty. Thus the procedure consisted mainly of cleaning the ornamental ensemble in order to recover its visibility and also underscore the glow and the nuances of the different gilding - red, yellow and green - along with the play of matte and shiny surfaces, the vivacity and freshness of the paintings, the rich but well-proportioned stuccos, the wood panelling with golden thistle décor and the Sarranconlin marble. The restoration duly reflects the skills of the official artists of the Third Republic.

The two ends of the Foyer are decorated with compositions by Henri Gervex. The painter took some artistic licence in depicting opera as originating in France rather than in Italy, more precisely at the court of Henri III, where he represents The Queen’s Ballet Comique, which in fact does not really have anything to do with opera ; across from it, he painted The Saint Lawrence Fair (ill. 1), a more realistic composition which recounts the birth of the opéra comique in Paris in the early 18th century.

2. Albert Maignan (1845-1908)
A figure in the Décor of the Foyer
at the Opéra-Comique
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Albert Maignan (1845-1908)
Notes and Rhythm
Ceiling of the Foyer at the Opéra-Comique
After Restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

On the other walls (ill. 2), Albert Maignan evokes famous comic operas of the time which can be identified thanks to the scores on scrolls appearing in each corner : on the window side, there is a scene from Chalet (1834) by Adolphe Adam and an episode from La Dame blanche (1825) by François-Adrien Boieldieu ; on the door side leading to the avant-foyer, we can see Les Noces de Jeannette (1853) by Victor Massé and Zampa (1831) by Ferdinand Hérold. Above these scenes we find allegories of Andante, Adagio and Allegro as well as two women representing Lyric Singing and Romance. The ceiling (ill. 3), also by Maignan, illustrates Notes and Rhythm which the artist links in transition with the figures on the walls by extending the foliage. The twelve stucco medallions surrounding Maignan’s painting represent famous composers, librettists and singers. The ensemble in fact recalls in a way the painted décor of the Opéra Garnier by Baudry, notably the figure of Mercury on the ceiling.

4. Paul Gasq (1860-1944) and his Studio
Christofle and Cie
Foyer at the Opéra-Comique
After Restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

Marble busts of illustrious composers appear around the room : André-Modeste Grétry, Etienne-Nicolas Méhul, Fromental Halévy, Ambroise Thomas, Edouard Lalo and Claude Débussy. Only two of these were chosen by Bernier, the others were placed against his will or after his death.
Overlooking the room, over the doors at each end, the gilt bronze allegories of Music and Song (ill. 4) were designed by Paul Gasq and produced by the Christofle et Cie. workshop which also executed the ensemble of gilt bronze décors - notably the ornaments of acanthus and laurel leaves above the five doors in Sarrancolin marble - as well as the two chandeliers, weighing one ton, displaying a Neo-Pompeian décor of satyr and nymph masks, each holding 116 light bulbs. Indeed, the Opéra Comique was the first theatre in Europe to install electricity throughout the building. The décor of acanthus and laurel leaves was removed for the restoration and the chandeliers were entirely taken apart in order to restore the gilt work and check the electrical wiring.

5. Luc-Olivier Merson (1846-1920)
Music in the Middle Ages
Marivaux Stair, Opéra-Comique
Non restored
Photo : Didier Rykner

The Grand Foyer still needs to recover its curtains which had disappeared and have been recreated from documents. They are currently being woven by Prelle in Lyon in natural silk with a rich décor of various golds. The oak parquet with the "point de Hongrie" motif will be restored in 2013.
However, much more remains to be done such as installing a ventilation system for the room, updating the electricity to current standards, restoring the painted décors of the two rotundas at each end of the room as they are particularly dirty and which have already undergone cleaning tests and in the avant-foyer [notably, in the west staircase, a beautiful composition by Luc-Olivier Merson (ill. 5)]. We hope that the State will now take an interest in funding the project and not depend entirely on the generosity of American donors.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mercredi 16 janvier 2013


[1] The major contributor is The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Kaye Foundation, which was joined by The Eveillard Family Charitable Trust, Fondation de l’Orangerie et ses donateurs, The Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Foundation/Sydney Houghton Weinberg and an anonymous donor.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : Santi di Tito, Trevisani, Ribera, Three Paintings for the Metropolitan Museum

Next article in News Items : Free (but Limited) Consultation of Articles on JSTOR