BRONGNIART, Alexandre-Théodore
(b. 1739, Paris, d. 1813, Paris)

Biography

French architect. He was educated at the Collège de Beauvais and at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, where he studied (c. 1760) under Jacques-François Blondel and Étienne-Louis Boullée. He never won the Prix de Rome, however, nor did he study in Italy, but in the 1770s he became one of the most fashionable architects of town houses (hôtels particuliers) in Paris, particularly in the northern part of the Chaussée d'Antin quarter and south of Les Invalides, which he helped develop as smart residential areas. His success was largely the result of the patronage of Louis-Philippe I, 4th Duc d'Orléans (1725-1785), and Louis-Philippe's rival, the Prince de Condé; this patronage began after the Marquise de Montesson, mistress to the Duc d'Orléans (after 1773 his wife), inherited the Marquis's fortune in 1769 and commissioned Brongniart to build her a house (destroyed; drawing, Paris, Carnavalet). The result was a relatively modest hôtel just east of the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, recalling the early work of Boullée.

In 1773 Brongniart designed a large house in the Rue de Provence, adjacent to the Hôtel de Montesson, for the Duke of Orléans; it was executed, with major modifications, by Henri Piètre, architect to the Orléans family. The building was not unlike a country house in character and scale: Brongniart's design was organized around a large oval courtyard leading to a theatre on one side and the house on the other, the latter with a circular salon and curved galleries overlooking a formal garden. In the later 1770s Brongniart built a series of large stable blocks opposite the entrance to the duke's house. During the same period he built several other houses in the north-east of Paris, including one in the Rue de Richelieu for Taillepied de Bondy, the Receveur des Finances for Auch. In 1775 he began work on the Hôtel Massais, Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, and the hôtel owned by Claude-Pierre-Maximilien Radix de Saint-Foix, which had a square plan divided into nine compartments. A pair of side wings loosely abutted the corps de logis.

The Hôtel de Monaco (1774-77), in the Rue St Dominique, was commissioned by the Prince de Condé for his mistress, Mary Catherine Grimaldi (d. 1813), Princess of Monaco. The building was articulated inside and out by an order of pilasters with a central curved portico, but it has been severely impaired by 19th-century embellishments. For Louise de Condé, the Prince's daughter, Brongniart was commissioned to design an hôtel (1781) in Rue Monsieur, south-east of Les Invalides; this is a building of great simplicity, the façades of which are ornamented only with rustication.

One of Brongniart's best-known buildings is the Capuchin monastery of Saint-Louis d'Antin (1779-82; now the Lycée Condorcet) in the Rue des Capuchins, Chaussée d'Antin, the first of his larger buildings in Paris. Its stark Neo-classicism, reflecting the influence of Boullée as well as the austerity of the Order, contrasts with the more ornate classicism of his earlier works. The rusticated street elevation is bare save for a few niches and a central portico flanked by Tuscan columns. Pedimented end pavilions front the church and conventual buildings. Inside, a central courtyard is surrounded by cloister walks with baseless Tuscan columns.

In 1785 Brongniart took over from Boullée the work on the stables and observatory of Ange-Jacques Gabriel's École Militaire, which he finished the following year. He also took over as architect and supervisor at Les Invalides, although his practice continued to be mainly in town houses. His subsequent work in Paris included the Archives of the Chevaliers de Saint-Lazare (1787), Rue Monsieur; the Maison Chamblin (1789) in the Rue Plumet; and the Théâtre Louvois (1791; destroyed), which had a brick façade of Neo-classical severity, with identical frameless arched windows articulating the first and second floors above a balcony resting on eight Tuscan columns.

With the outbreak of the French Revolution, Brongniart lost his posts at the École Militaire and Les Invalides and took refuge in Bordeaux, where he supervised the décor for revolutionary festivals. He returned to Paris in 1795 and was rapidly elected to the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils and appointed consultant to the Panthéon, but after losing these posts he turned in 1800 to designing porcelain and furniture. He was employed by the Sèvres porcelain factory and designed the 'Table des Maréchaux' (1808; London, Buckingham Palace, Royal Collection), made for Napoleon. In 1804, he was appointed Chief of Public Works, Paris, in which capacity he designed the layout of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery (1805) and the Bourse (1808-13; much altered).

The Bourse, which is his most famous work in Paris, is again different in style from his earlier works. The revolutionary simplicity of the Capuchin monastery and the Théâtre Louvois was replaced by the decorative pomp of a Corinthian peristyle in a manner that conformed to Napoleon's taste for Classical temples. Inside, a top-lit central hall is surrounded by two tiers of arcaded galleries giving on to offices and reception rooms. Brongniart was buried in the cemetery that he had helped to create as a public park as well as a necropolis.