Art Nouveau is not the first thing you expect to see in Chicago. Aside from the nature-inspired of patterns by Louis Sullivan, the city broadly leans more in the Miesian direction–linear and glass. The flourishing, nature-inspired art style was not only short lived (it was popular from around 1890-1910), but to me it says “Europe” far more than it says “Chicago.” Yet, right on Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Loop, an Art Nouveau Metra stop looks at home with its backdrop of Grant Park. But why does Chicago have an art nouveau Metra station?
I happened upon this piece of art last week and immediately looked it up (how could I not?). Turns out, Chicago’s Art Nouveau Metra stop is a replica of the entrances to the Paris Metro system, which were designed by Hector Guimard (1867-1942) and inaugurated in 1900. Art Nouveau was at its height in popularity at the turn of the 20th century and Guimard designed several models in the Art Nouveau style that can be seen at 88 different metro stops in Paris, today. Here, the arched entrance features stalks of lilies of the valley. Guimard’s designs drew from nature, including vines and dragonfly wings.
This Metra stop was gifted to the city of Chicago from Paris in 2001, in celebration of the centennial of France’s mass transit company (the RATP). It is cast directly from Guimard’s designs.
Sources and Further Reading:
This is a good starting point for information on Art Nouveau.
Curious about the original Guimand designs in Paris? Check out some great historic and present day pictures on Arch Daily (this building is amazing!). In New York City? An arch can be found in the garden at the Museum of Modern Art.
The Chicago Tribune wrote an article in 2001, at the time the Metra stop was gifted to Chicago.
Other details were gathered from signs on location.