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La Chaux-de-Fonds


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.”
 

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