La Chaux-de-Fonds is a town of 38,000 inhabitants in a green setting in the
Swiss Haut-Jura, 1,000 metres above sea level. It owes its structure, appearance,
a large part of its character, and even its existence as a town to the watch-making
industry. Its grid-pattern layout comes from determined and idealistic town
planning, born out of the Age of the Enlightenment, applied to its
reconstruction and development following the accidental fire in 1794 which
destroyed the whole village: today La Chaux-de-Fonds is the most important Swiss
example of coherent urban construction from the 19th century.
Art Nouveau was imported to La Chaux-de-Fonds at the end of the 19th century
under the influence of watch-making patrons and their trade representatives, and
finds pride of place in the watch-making arena. Window panes, tiles, stairwell
designs, stuccos, wood and iron work found their way into new constructions.
Unique in Switzerland, it is at La Chaux-de-Fonds school of art that Art
Nouveau found an original field of expression. Charles L'Eplattenier
(1874-1946), an artist sensitive to the precepts of Art Nouveau and an
enthusiastic teacher, developed a school whose expression was both original and
ambitious. His advanced courses in art and decoration, launched in October 1905,
introduced certain students of the school of art to the study of nature, among
them Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, later Le Corbusier. The idea that "only nature
can inspire" drove the young professor and his students to the study of the
regional flora and fauna and to create a specific stylistic vocabulary called
Pine tree Style. Together they achieved remarkable results in the creation of
numerous designs (commissioned publicly or privately), which bear witness to
exceptional industriousness. The creations include the most diverse objects:
watch boxes, various ornamental pieces and even architecture with, for example,
the Villa Fallet project in 1906. The Crematorium (1909-1910) is the most
complete of all these works and is considered a masterpiece of this intense
period of artistic innovation.
Geographically, it is interesting to note that La Chaux-de-Fonds is situated
where French or Belgian Art Nouveau typified by curves and the much more
geometric German (Jugendstil) or Austrian (Sezessionstil) Art Nouveau meet.
The basis of our decorative style continues to be the pine tree. At its various
ages, this tree offers endless decorative possibilities when studied as a whole
or in detail. Large silver thistles, gentians and the like, together with the
local fauna, lushly complement these elements.