Claude-Nicolas Ledoux


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Prolific French Neo-Classicist, he is regarded as one of the greatest architects of his time, although very few of his works survive. He studied under J. -F. Blondel, and his earliest works were elegant paradigms of the Louis XVI style. These include the Hôtel d'Hallwyl, Rue Michael-le-Comte, Paris (1766), the Château de Bénouville, Normandy (c. 1764–c.1770), the exquisite Hôtel d'Uzès, Rue Montmartre, Paris (1768), and the ingenious Hôtel de Montmorency, facing the Boulevard Montmartre and the Chaussée d'Antin (1769–71—with a diagonal axis and elliptical salon). From 1771, however, he worked for Madame du Barry (1746–93) for whom he built the charming Pavillon de Louveciennes (1771–3), one of his first essays in a pure Neo-Classical style, with interior decorations perfect examples of their time. At the Hôtel Thélusson, between the Rue de Provence and Rue de Chantereine, Paris (1778–83—demolished), he created an approach via a gigantic rusticated astylar Doric arch, and surrounded the house with an informal garden in the ‘English’ style, complete with rock-work constructions. His command of stark geometry evolved further at the semicircular theatre at Besançon (1775–80—burnt 1957), with its Greek Doric colonnade inside, and at the extraordinarily tough Salines (Salt-Works) d'Arc-et-Senans (1773–8), built in his role as Inspecteur des Salines de la Franche-Comté. Banded columns, simplified rigid geometry, and primitivist qualities emphasized by the unfluted Greek Doric columns were something new. The complex formed the centre-piece for his Utopian town of Chaux (published in L'architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art, des mœurs, et de la législation (Architecture Considered in Relation to Art, Standards, and Legislation—1804 and 1847), in which simplified, stripped Neo-Classicism was the language, with allusions to all sorts of stereometrically pure geometries, including Egyptian pyramids, a phallus-shaped brothel, a hoop-shaped house for a cooper, and even spherical structures. Allied to this were routes passing through various mnemonic devices, clearly Freemasonic in origin and intent. Although Chaux (meaning ‘lime’, the binding agency of masonry and therefore an allusion to a programme of Freemasonic connections) remained mostly a strange and wonderful dream, Ledoux was able to realize many of his most advanced ideas in the series of Barrières or toll-houses erected around Paris (1785–9), including the Rotonde de la Villette, with its mighty drum on unfluted Greek Doric serlianas, set over a square plan to each elevation of which are attached square Doric columns, and the grimly powerful Barrières of Passy, Longchamp, l'Observation, and Chopinette. Here was ‘primitive’ Neo-Classicism at its starkest and most sophisticated, among the greatest architectural creations of C18.

Builder (1980);Gallet (1980, 1992);E. Kaufmann (1952);Middleton & Watkin (1987);Placzek (ed.) (1982);Rabreau (2000);Jane Turner (1996);Vidler (1987, 1990, 1995)

Subjects: Architecture.

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