The most beautiful swimming pool in France…

….is now a museum for Roubaix’s civic art collection

ROUBAIX. The opening of the Museum of Art and Industry in a former public swimming baths in Roubaix, northern France, is a masterstroke of urban renewal and modern museum design.

Roubaix was once the textile capital of the world, awash with money from the wool and cotton trades. Civic wealth was expressed with ambitious social projects such as “the most beautiful swimming pool in France” complete with hair dressing salon and launderette, and wealthy merchants were keen to donate art to the town’s burgeoning art collection.

Now only remnants of the wool trade survive. The civic art gallery was closed in 1940. Even the swimming baths were closed down in 1985, because of chlorine damage to the roof.

The baths were built between 1927 and 1932 by Lille architect Albert Baert on the footprint of a Cistercian abbey, hence the cloister, and grand proportions. Baert responded enthusiastically to his municipal brief to build “the most beautiful swimming pool in France” with elaborate theatrical detail and rich Art Deco mosaic work.

The new museum, that opened in October, breathes life back into the old building and provides a setting for Roubaix’s art collection.

In the central hall a 40-metre long stretch of ornamental water is filled from a stoneware waterspout in the shape of a lion, surrounded by a collection of 19th- and early 20th-century sculpture—like so many stone bathing beauties. The former shower rooms, through which one enters the swimming pool, have become showcases. The industrial splendour of the filter rooms is the backdrop for a shop.

For a total budget of FFr131 million (Ј12 million; $18 million), of public and private money, the architect Jean-Paul Philippon has managed to both completely conserve the original Art Deco interior of the building while converting it for use as a museum.

The fine art collection, of 19th- and 20th-century works by artists such as Bonnard, Dufy, Lempicka, Bugatti and Schnegg, is arranged chronologically and thematically in the former communal bathrooms.

The first floor of the building houses Roubaix’s exceptional textile collection: 8,000 books of samples and 50,000 pieces of fabric, as well as several thousand textile drawings, furniture and carpets. Part of the display will deal with workers’ social clubs and unions and the politicians and industrialists who made the city.

The former bar has becomes the museum restaurant. The cloister has been replanted as a botanical garden with plants used in the textile industry.

Now Roubaix is looking to the future and preparing itself for 2004 when nearby Lille will be European Cultural Capital. Roubaix’s new museum is to host two exhibitions: “Picasso and the applied arts” and “Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard: the birth of pure colour”.

Published in: on November 8, 2001 at 5:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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