The Façade of the Hôtel Lambert Overwhelmed by Reconstituted Pots à Feu

6/4/12 - Heritage - Paris, Hôtel Lambert - Six months ago we expressed our concern for the lack of communication now surrounding the restoration project at the Hôtel Lambert, contradicting the promises made by the owner of increasing access to journalists. We are perhaps not the only ones to worry about the ensuing results as the French Minister of Culture, Fréderic Mitterand, who visited the monument on 6 April carefully reminded the Emir of Qatar’s brother that he was to comply with the accord protocol signed in January 2010. However, according to our sources, the real problem stems actually from the fact that he is following it too closely, refusing to enhance the inevitable discoveries often found during work (see our news item of 9/9/11 in French).

1. Hôtel Lambert
Façade with the new pots à feu
6th april 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Elevation of the façade of the Hôtel Lambert, detail
Architecture française published in 1852 by Blondel
Photo : DR

The first results of the restoration, which anyone can evaluate as they concern the façade (ill. 1), show alas, that our worries were justified. The upper part of the building is now visible, topped by reconstituted pots à feu, or decorative architectural ornaments in the form of a vase.
These elements had disappeared a long time ago and were known thanks only to a engraving published by Mariette in 1737, then again in a second edition by Blondel in 1752 (ill. 2). But almost everything in the latter is incorrect, the proportions, the height of the is perfectly well known by specialists. This is why the members of the Comité Scientifique were against this reconstitution. However, the question was never voted on since the Ministry of Culture had validated the proposal of the chief architect for historical monuments, Alain-Charles Perrot, to reproduce them.

3. Detail of ill. 2

4. Façade of the Hôtel Lambert
with its new pots à feu
6th april 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner

Faced with this "fait accompli", the Comité Scientifique’s only resort was to try and control the architect. He, however, had the decorative elements sculpted without having his design validated by specialists, who then discovered with a certain astonishment that the reconstitution was totally peculiar : much too big, transformed into veritable firepots with flames coming out the top, these could not be installed in this way. The Comité Scientifique demanded that the architect modify them following the model of the engraving, the only tangible element available though knowing that it does not correspond to what really existed.
Alain-Charles Perrot confirmed the following information to us : the Comité Scientifique "decided to consult the drawings [seen in the engravings edited by Mariette]." "Initially, it is true that it did not conform to these engravings. We redid all of the bases, the uppper parts and reshaped the stems ; we tried several different mockups and installations. It was complicated to understand how these pots à feu had been made with [notably] the very particular feet." "After several attempts, we arrived at this result." "These pots à feu do indeed have an extremely bizarre shape and appearance" and he then adds, "this is not what I had designed in my project."

5. Façade de l’Hôtel Lambert
before the restoration work
and the reconstitution of the pots à feu
Photo : Didier Rykner

Despite all of these modifications, the results, as anyone can see, are absolutely disastrous. The lack of proportion of these pots à feu and their "bizarre" shape overwhelm Louis Le Vau’s beautiful façade. The engraving is imaginary but it is at least harmonious. A comparison is in fact quite eloquent : there is nothing in common between the drawings and the final product (ill. 3 and 4).
We thus find ourselves, once again, with a totally free reconstitution which will now be imposed on admirers of the Parisian cityscape. And this is not the fault of the owner who is, in this case, simply following the dictates of the Monuments Historiques which has again succombed to its almost atavistic taste for hypothetical reconstitutions, denounced by Alexandre Gady in our last program. The façade, even without its pots à feu (ill. 5), was perfectly beautiful and surely more authentic than now [1]. It now looks ridiculous. Victor Hugo wrote that the use of a building belongs to its owner, but that its beauty belongs to everyone. A share of the beauty of our city, Paris, has just been stolen from us. Fortunately, it can be corrected : it is now time to demand that these pots à feu be removed.

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 7 avril 2012


[1] The only thing needed was to eliminate the satellite dish which had no business being there.

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