Charles Garnier is a famous French architect and art theorist of the 19th century, an outstanding representative of the architectural style of Beaux-Arts. The buildings of the opera houses in Paris and Monte Carlo were built according to Charles Garnier’s designs. Today the masterpieces of the great architect can be seen in France, Italy, Germany and Turkey. In his biography the joyful periods of his life are closely intertwined with tragic events.
Charles Garnier is widely regarded as one of the most influential French artists in the field of architecture. During his lifetime, he became widely known, for more than 20 years he was active in teaching and headed the state commission for the acceptance of architectural projects.
Charles Garnier biography
Charles Garnier was born in the center of Paris, in the ancient V arrondissement, on November 6, 1825, in the family of the owner of a small company that specialized in the rental of horse-drawn carriages. His father was not a native Parisian, he married the daughter of a military man and moved to the French capital from the small provincial town of Saint-Calais a year before the birth of his son. Parents early noticed the boy’s ability to art and sent him to study at an art school at the age of 13. Upon graduation, Charles worked as an assistant in the workshops of several famous French architects for two years. First by Jean Arnould Léveil, then by Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, Jules André and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.
The knowledge acquired in practice helped the young man not only enter the School of Fine Arts, but also finish it brilliantly. Charles even became a laureate of the prestigious Rome Prize. And in 1849 he was sent to study in the capital of Italy at the French Academy.
Over the next 4 years, Garnier was engaged not only in studies, but also traveled a lot to see with his own eyes the architectural masterpieces of ancient masters. He traveled all over Italy, visited Greece and Istanbul several times, after which he became a passionate admirer of the oriental style of architecture for his whole life.
Work in Paris
Having received an excellent architectural education, Charles returned to Paris in 1854 and took up practical activities in his main specialty. At first, Garnier implemented small projects. And at the age of 35 he was appointed to the position of architect of two Parisian districts at once.
In 1858, Charles Garnier married Louise Bury, the sister of his friend Arthur Bury, in this marriage he lived with his beloved woman until his death. Unfortunately, the family life of the outstanding architect cannot be called happy. His eldest son Daniel died at the age of two, and the youngest, Christian, despite his obvious talent for architectural art, was never able to realize them due to serious health problems.
The year 1861 brought Garnier to widespread fame after winning a competition for the design of a new building for the Paris Opera House. His work was recognized as the best of 171 options submitted for consideration. The masterpiece of architecture created by the master is still considered the brightest example of the Beaux-Arts style, and the Parisians themselves call the building nothing more than the “Opera Garnier”.
Creation of architectural masterpieces
After winning the competition, Charles got access to the huge funds allocated by the government for the construction of the building, and went on a trip to Europe to see firsthand the best opera houses of the Old World. Returning from his trip, he made minor adjustments to the finished project and began to bring to life his most famous architectural masterpiece. In total, the construction of the Paris Opera took almost 14 years. Only in January 1875 the grand opening of the new building took place.
It took 7 months only to pump out groundwater from the swampy plot of land allocated by the authorities. The architect constantly had to argue with the critics of the project, funds were allocated irregularly, which seriously hampered the work. Funding ceased completely in the midst of the political crisis of 1870, when violent events took place in the French capital associated with the famous Paris commune. Charles Garnier was forced to leave his hometown for a whole year, at which time he settled in Menton, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Returning to Paris, the master continued to supervise the construction of the opera house, and also began to lead an active social life. Since 1873, every winter he and his family lived in Italy in order to at least slightly improve the health of his son Christian, who was sick with tuberculosis. Garnier bought a plot of land in the resort town of Bordiner and built a chic modern villa there.
For many years, Garnier was the most fashionable French architect.
He became a Knight Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1864, and 10 years later he was elected a full member of the Academy of Fine Arts. Customers lined up for a popular architect. He, unlike most of his colleagues, had the opportunity to choose the most interesting projects and refuse most of the others.
Charles Garnier successfully combined his main work with teaching and writing books on the theory of architectural art. His publications were very popular in France and were instantly translated into other languages. Many of the works of the great architect are still studied by students-architects during their studies at the university. Another original activity of Garnier was the design of tombs of famous people in France. Most of the masterpiece burial monuments created by the master can still be seen in the most famous Parisian cemeteries Père Lachaise and Montmartre.
Two years before his death, the great architect retired due to noticeably increased health problems. But he did not stop taking part in architectural competitions as part of an authoritative jury and was present at ceremonial events. On the morning of August 2, 1898, he was struck by the first stroke. In the evening of the next day, the master died during the second attack. Charles Garnier was buried in Paris, in the Montparnasse cemetery, where many famous French politicians, artists and thinkers rest in peace.
The most famous works of Charles Garnier
The creative heritage of the brilliant architect includes many grandiose masterpieces. It is very difficult to choose the most significant projects among them, and yet, the following buildings can be attributed to the most famous works of Charles Garnier:
- The Paris Opera (1861-1875) is one of the most famous opera houses in the world, a standard of eclectic architectural style.
- Opera Monte Carlo (1878-1879) is a magnificent masterpiece of architecture on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, erected in the shortest possible time within 8 months by order of Prince Charles III of Monaco.
- Villa Garnier in Bordighera (1871-1875) is an elegant three-story mansion, in which the great master often received guests during his winter holidays in Italy.
- The Savard Mausoleum in Saint-Michel (1882) is a splendid tomb created in collaboration with the sculptor Eugène Delaplanche. Since 2004, the French authorities have recognized this site as a historical monument.