An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain: conservation of an original Hector Guimard architectural surround

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The Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain, an original architectural surround from the Paris subway system and an emblem of the early 20th-century art nouveau style, was installed in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in 2003. Designed by the pioneering French architect Hector Guimard, surrounds for Le Métro were fabricated from cast and wrought iron that was painted to resemble the variegated green patina of aged bronze surfaces. 

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Because all of the original Métro surrounds were installed outdoors, and many have been in constant use since the early 20th century, most surviving surrounds have been restored and repainted numerous times. As a result, the sculptural surface of the Gallery’s Métro entrance bore little resemblance to the surface intended by Guimard. By 2008, the existing paint layers were faded and chalky, and were actively lifting from the cast iron structure.


Hector Guimard’s An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain

 

An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain by Hector Guimard

A sculpture conservator applies the upper layers of a complex coating system replicating the faux aged bronze surface intended by Hector Guimard for An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain.

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A conservator applies the upper layers of the faux paint system on the interior of the Métro.

The conservation treatment, which required the removal of the Métro from the Sculpture Garden, included the application of corrosion inhibitors and more durable paints suitable for Washington winters.  Performed by Gallery conservators and contractors, the conservation treatment returned the sculpture to its original appearance, maintaining the faux aged bronze surface intended by Guimard.

An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain, Hector Guimard

Detail of An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain by Hector Guimard during conservation treatment. The elements on the left show the surface after treatment; the elements on the right show only the lower layers of the new coating system.

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Detail of the Métropolitain sign fabricated to replace the existing deteriorated non-original sign