Petites Constructions Françaises

Architectural drawings always fascinated me. Especially when they date back to the 19th century. And when they are French, it’s even better. So I was very happy to find a portfolio with 26 specimens of ‘small French buildings’ (Petites Constructions Françaises). The portfolio was published by E. Thézard and son, in the French town of Dourdan. The town was in the previous Seine-et-Oise department, but has been swallowed by the greater Paris area. The department Seine-et-Oise has been split up in a number of smaller departments in 1964. Duordan now is the principal town of the ‘Canton’ Dourdan, which is a part of the department Essonne.

Architectural drawing for a town house, 1893.
Maison d’habitation, from the collection Petites Constructions Françaises (ca. 1893)
Architectural rendering of a 19th century French town house
Maison d’habitation, from the collection Petites Constructions Françaises (ca. 1893). Detail, ground floor.

The pleasantly coloured lithographs in the folder put us back in the final decades of the nineteenth century, when the stratification of the French middle classes demanded a certain variety of homes. The employee, the petit-bourgeous, the bourgeois, the hunter, the doctor, the architect, the lodger, the rentier, they all needed an appropriate place to live in. The drawings in the folder present a sampler of possibilities. They include sections of the buildings, plans, elevations, and drawings of specific architectural details. Everything rendered in soft, faded colours. The buildings have been selected by a committee of architects.

I haven’t had the time to do a more diligent search, but I found that E. Thézard, fils, had published several collections of illustrations about architecture and design in the late-nineteenth, and early twentieth century. They all more or less conformed to the same type of loosely gathered folded lithographs, held together by a cardboard portfolio, closed with ribbons.

Maison d'habitation, from the collection Petites Constructions Françaises (ca. 1893). Detail, roof, mansarde, and chimney,
Maison d’habitation, from the collection Petites Constructions Françaises (ca. 1893). Detail, roof, mansarde, and chimney,

The lithographs are a real feast for the eyes. They transport you to a past where the Paris ‘banlieue’ was populated with elegant eclectic buildings, and the streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages. There are still some pockets of 19th century architecture left, although the accompanying silence and elegant emptiness are lost forever.

Some loose pages from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893).
Some loose pages from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893).
Hunting lodge (Pavillon de Chasse) from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893).
Hunting lodge (Pavillon de Chasse) from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893).

The portfolio is incomplete, I think, but I haven’t had the time to dive into it and do a bit of serious research. I noticed that individual pages emerge in online auctions here and there, together with pages from other portfolios by the same editor. It would be a nice idea to visit Dourdan some day, to figure out where this publishing house was located. I found a lithograph that has found its way to the Metropolitan Museum. Images, very ornate, from the Bibliothèque de l’Ameublement, published by Thézard must have been very sought after. In an advertisement for the monthly magazine titled ‘L’Architecture Usuelle’, published in 1913 I found that the publisher’s Christian name was Emile. According to the accompanying description the publication of the periodical was interrupted in 1914 by the Great War, but was continued after the war and ran unto 1922.

I especially like the rendering of the hunting lodge (above) and the ‘architect’s house (below). They are just like the buildings you may have seen somewhere, passing the small towns in the larger Paris area, but failed to really look at attentively. Such buildings are still out there, albeit rare.

Architect's house (Maison pour architecte) from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893).
Architect’s house (Maison pour architecte) from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893).

In the town of Dourdan according to one source on the web the art publisher Thézard still exists. I, however, could not find any information to confirm this. Until, that is, a recent reprint of a number of plates from L’Architecture Usuelle, was returned by Google. Apparently the publishing houses of Thézard and Juliot, another big name in Dourdan, have been acquired by the publishing house Vial that specialises in art and architecture. The accompanying text informs us that Emile Thézard was active between 1860 and 1939, and started his own publishing house after leaving the Paris-based Dunod publishing house.

Portfolio cover and architect's house (Maison pour architecte) from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893).
Portfolio cover and architect’s house (Maison pour architecte) from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893).

Well, I think the Musée de Dourdan at least merits a visit, some day.

Loose pages with hunting lodge and worker's house from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893). Some plans, and sections.
Loose pages with hunting lodge and worker’s house from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893). Some plans, and sections.
Section of the maison d'habitation, from the portfolio 'Petites Constructions Françaises' (ca. 1893). Some plans, and sections.
Section of the maison d’habitation, from the portfolio ‘Petites Constructions Françaises’ (ca. 1893). Some plans, and sections.
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