Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’?

Aubette 1928, featuring the Cabaret-Ciné-Bal is one of the names given to the space in the aubette 1928 building in Strasbourg. On Saturday afternoon, along with about 20 other people, of a mixture of nationalities, I had a guided tour around the building, courtesy of the Alsace chapter of the English Speaking Community. In an 18th century building that  dominates the central square, Place Kléber, in Strasbourg. It was built by the French architect Blondel on the site of a ruined church and was part of an original plan to build on all four sides of the Place Kléber to commemorate the move of Strasbourg into France at the end of the seventeenth century. In the 1920’s half the building was rented by the Horn brothers, an architect and pharmacist from Mulhouse, who had been asked to help construct and build the new opening, which became rue du 22 Novembre. The brothers wanted to create space for the public and they asked the artist who had decorated their  new hotel at 15 rue du 22 Novembre (Now known as the Hotel Hannong), Sophie Taeuber-Arp, to decorate the nine different public spaces in the building. Sophie was married to fellow Dadaist artist Jean Hans Arp, who had been born just around the corner in Strasbourg before his family moved to Switzerland. The two Arps. were joined by fellow Dadaist and member of the De Stilj movement, architect Théo Van Doesburg. The decoration that has been restored is very reminiscent of De Stijl‘s best known artist, Piet Mondrian. We were told that he and Van Doesburg had fallen out by the time the latter was decorating the building in Strasbourg. Mondrian is famous for his works of art featuring the primary colours and straight lines at 90° from each other. As you can see from the second picture in the dance-hall/cinema Van Doesburg had the 90 lines at the diagonal and used colours other than the primary colours. We were told this is the reason the two fell out. I am a big fan of Mondrian so seeing these rooms decorated by another member of the same group was fantastic and such a total surprise for me to find something so wonderful right here in Strasbourg. I have heard the work done to the Aubette has been described as the modern art equivalent of the Sistine Chapel.

The first photograph shows the entrance to this section of the building from the ground floor of the Aubette building where there are a lot of shops. As I said, the second shows the dance-hall cinema/and you can see the use of diagonal lines which we were told was done by Van Doesburg to give a feeling of movement to encourage people to be up and dancing. The third picture shows a room which was a transition from the dance-hall/cinema to the restaurant, which is the fourth picture. In the transition area you might get a drink or listen to a couple of musicians or a small band playing. The restaurant was more genuinely like the work of Mondrian although it had pale as well as strong versions of the colours. It would have been quite an impressive room to be sat eating in. The next two pictures are of the stairwell, back down to the entrance, featuring the striking stained glass window which is the main feature.

We then left for the Hotel Hannong where there is a whole wall taken up with a display showing what the Aubette looked like at the time. Only one floor of the building, featuring three rooms and the staircase, has been renovated there were nine rooms altogether. The other rooms featured further work by Van Doesburg as well as Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Jean Hans Arp. A group of us stayed at the hotel for a coffee and a chat. On my return home I fished out a book I’ve had for a while on De Stijl and was surprised to find that it had 14 pages on the Aubette with further pictures of how it looked at the time.

Altogether one of the best and most enjoyable Saturday afternoons I have spent in Strasbourg. If you live in or visit the city make sure you visit this shrine to modern art. You will not be disappointed.

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4 Responses to “Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’?”

  1. Thank You « The Flashing Blade Says:

    […] The Flashing Blade The swashbuckling adventures of the daring chevalier « Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’? […]

  2. Pamela Says:

    Very interesting and enjoyable Andrew – your talent for historical detail is as clear as ever! My brother said you really made Strasbourg come alive for them when they visited and I remember various interns saying the same thing about Reading after you’d shown them around. Long may it continue xx

  3. Springtime for Mondrian « The Flashing Blade Says:

    […] the post I wrote about the visit to the Aubette I talked about how interesting I found it that there was […]

  4. Artbitch | The Flashing Blade Says:

    […] get the T-Shirt, using the design, I am pictured wearing in 1986. I have written in the past about Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’ and Springtime for […]

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