1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Garnier, Jean Louis Charles

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GARNIER, JEAN LOUIS CHARLES (1825–1898), French architect, was born in Paris on the 6th of November 1825. He was educated in a primary school, and it was intended that he should pursue his father’s craft, that of a wheelwright. His mother, however, having heard that with a little previous study he might enter an architect’s office and eventually become a measuring surveyor (vérificateur), and earn as much as six francs a day, and foreseeing that in consequence of his delicate health he would be unfit to work at the forge, sent him to learn drawing and mathematics at the Petite École de Dessin, in the rue de Médecine, the cradle of so many of the great artists of France. His progress was such as to justify his being sent first into an architect’s office and then to the well-known atelier of Lebas, where he began his studies in preparation for the examination of the École des Beaux Arts, which he passed in 1842, at the age of seventeen. Shortly after his admission it became necessary that he should support himself, and accordingly he worked during the day in various architects’ offices, among them in that of M. Viollet-le-Duc, and confined his studies for the École to the evening. In 1848 he carried off, at the early age of twenty-three, the Grand Prix de Rome, and with his comrades in sculpture, engraving and music, set off for the Villa de Medicis. His principal works were the measured drawings of the Forum of Trajan and the temple of Vesta in Rome, and the temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli. In the fifth year of his travelling studentship he went to Athens and measured the temple at Aegina, subsequently working out a complete restoration of it, with its polychromatic decoration, which was published as a monograph in 1877. The elaborate set of drawings which he was commissioned by the duc de Luynes to make of the tombs of the house of Anjou were not published, owing to the death of his patron; and since Garnier’s death they have been given to the library of the École des Beaux Arts, along with other drawings he made in Italy. On his return to Paris in 1853 he was appointed surveyor to one or two government buildings, with a very moderate salary, so that the commission given him by M. Victor Baltard to make two water-colour drawings of the Hôtel de Ville, to be placed in the album presented to Queen Victoria in 1855, on the occasion of her visit to Paris, proved very acceptable. These two drawings are now in the library at Windsor.

In 1860 came, at last, Garnier’s chance: a competition was announced for a design for a new imperial academy of music, and out of 163 competitors Garnier was one of five selected for a second competition, in which, by unanimous vote, he carried off the first prize, and the execution of the design was placed in his hands. Begun in 1861, but delayed in its completion by the Franco-German War, it was not till 1875 that the structure of the present Grand Opera House of Paris was finished, at a cost of about 35,000,000 francs (£1,420,000). During the war the building was utilized as the municipal storehouse of provisions. The staircase and the magnificent hall are the finest portion of the interior, and alike in conception and realization have never been approached. Of Garnier’s other works, the most remarkable are the Casino at Monte Carlo, the Bischoffsheim villa at Bordighera, the Hôtel du Cercle de la Librairie in Paris; and, among tombs, those of the musicians Bizet, Offenbach, Massé and Duprato. In 1874 he was elected a member of the Institute of France, and after passing through the grades of chevalier, officer and commander of the Legion of Honour, received in 1895 the rank of grand officer, a high distinction that had never before been granted to an architect. Charles Garnier’s reputation was not confined to France; it was recognized by all the countries of Europe, and in England he received, in 1886, the royal gold medal of the Royal Institute of Architects, given by Queen Victoria. Besides his monograph on the temple of Aegina, he wrote several works, of which Le Nouvel Opéra de Paris is the most valuable. For the International Exhibition of 1889 he designed the buildings illustrating the “History of the House” in all periods, and a work on this subject was afterwards published by him in conjunction with M. Ammann. Not the least of his claims to the gratitude of his country were the services which he rendered on the various art juries appointed by the state, the Institute of France, and the École des Beaux-Arts, services which in France are rendered in an honorary capacity. Garnier died on the 3rd of August 1898.  (R. P. S.)