The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                 PAGE THREE
Beauvais and Arras: 

       A Long Weekend ~ from Carolingian Architecture to Art Déco 

                                                                                                                                 by Arthur Gillette 
                                                                                                                      Photos by Clara Dudezert

St-Pierre Cathedral. Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009.  All rights reserved.
Some seventy train minutes to the northeast of Paris, the city of Beauvais is no provincial backwater.  Probably its main attraction, the Medieval Gothic Saint-Pierre Cathedral has, in fact, a vaulting fully fourteen meters taller than that of Notre-Dame de Paris ~ it has one of the highest Gothic bays in the world and does take one's breath away.

Curiously, however, Saint-Pierre is unfinished. Cresting on textile-produced prosperity, the town began building the cathedral in the early 1200s. As with almost all such edifices, the work took a long time to progress with about fifty years needed to finish the choir and eastern transept. Some of the high-flying arches proved a bit too daring and collapsed in 1284. 

Mermaid musician.  Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009.  All rights reserved.
Undaunted by this mishap, the builders began reconstruction, only to be further delayed by the Hundred Years War. Afterwards, they again challenged the sky (or should that be 'Heaven' ?) with a spire 150 meters high (compared with Paris' Notre Dame towers of 'only' 69 meters) which proceeded to crash down in 1573.

Throughout the construction, like a caterpillar munching away at a leaf, the new cathedral gradually replaced its much earlier, pre-Romanesque (more or less 980s A.D.) Carolingian in situ predecessor, which was demolished step by step as building progressed. Then funding ran low and Saint-Pierre's Gothic nave was never built.   This hiatus left what remained of the Carolingian structure's nave (including stones re-used from the Gallo-Roman city rampart, part of which has survived nearby) still today seeming to snuggle like a diminutive but husky bear cub up against the protective Gothic giraffe.

Just across the street from the cathedral (s), is the city Office de Tourisme, housed in the former Bishop's Palace. It, too, was built progressively, boasting a magnificent Renaissance façade on a courtyard whose portal is defended by two sturdy early 14th century half-moon towers. In one of these ceiling illustrations are a reminder that important Medieval buildings tended to be fancifully decorated and not always with religious themes;  as you can see, a mermaid violist graces the Office de Tourisme's ceiling!

Luck did not entirely desert Beauvais in June 1940 when the Luftwaffe set two-thirds of the town afire. The cathedral(s) survived, as did certain other monuments.

And Now, Arras : A Stunning Architectural Juxtaposition

Not far from Beauvais is Arras, a mere 50 minutes by high-speed TGV train to Paris. Nearby, but not so lucky in wartime. During World war I, it was on the front line and almost entirely gutted. Many shell holes in Arras façades, and the city's memorial/cemetery of 35,942 unknown British Empire soldiers killed here or nearby, still bear eloquently mute witness to the destruction and horror.

Flemish influence. Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009.  All rights reserved.

A truly lucky survivor on the Grand' Place ~ vast central marketplaces were typical of  north-eastern French towns ~ is the Maison des Luppars, 'House at the Sign of the Leopards'. Nobody could explain this invocation to me, although many entwined wheat sheaves emblems emblazoned on Grand' Place façades recall the presence of grain merchants there. Although its origin seems unknown, the 'Leopards' house is touching since it is the oldest in Arras, dating from 1467.  This photo shows the strong influence of Flemish architecture in the laterally stepped roof and brick cladding above quarry-stone arcades that favored commerce in not-always-clement weather.

Less fortunate were the majority of Arras' Medieval and later monuments, such as the largest 18th century monastic complex in France (the Saint-Vaast Cathedral and Abbey) and the Gothic Renaissance Town Hall with its soaring belfry ~ all shelled to smithereens except for some ground story vestiges.

Post-World War I reconstruction produced a stunning architectural juxtaposition.  On one hand, certain of the historical buildings, such as those just mentioned, were rebuilt with an external appearance identical to their original character.

Art Déco apartment. Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009.  All rights reserved.

On the other hand, the massive war damage cleared space for a trend in architecture that would become fashionable during Arras' reconstruction in the 1920s and 1930s: believe it or not, Art Déco!  Certain of today's main (and then wealthier) thoroughfares practically teem with apartment house, store and other civil facades and details in that style. This photo is an example of an Art Déco apartment house in Arras.

Perhaps more surprising was the penetration of Art Déco into the city's religious architecture. Thus, although externally rebuilt as scrupulously as possible according to its original medieval form, much of  Saint-Vaast Cathedral's  interior decoration and furniture are decidedly Art Déco. 

Saint-Vaast's Art Déco pulpit.  Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009.  All rights reserved.

Saint-Vaast's Art Déco pulpit

Another Surprise

Had enough of Carolingian, Gothic, Renaissance, Art Déco ? Then don't miss, a few minutes on foot from downtown Arras, the archeological park with several vestiges of the Third Century 'Schola des Dendrophores' - the Gallo-Roman Woodworkers Guild. Already a town then, its current name is in fact a contraction of 'Atrebates', a Celtic tribe mentioned by Caesar in his Gallic Wars.

                                                                        More information (and images) on the Office de Tourisme's Web site :  Click on the British flag for English, 
and for Arras on its Office de Tourisme Web site
At this writing, the English version of the site is under construction, but all Office staff 
can interact in English, by email at and face-to-face.

 Before, or after, your long weekend at Beauvais/Arras, 
why not be guided by Arthur on one (or more !) of his 17 strolls 
designed to 'Discover Paris Through The Ages'
For more information send an email to

 [Photo credits:  Copyright Clara Dudezert 2009. All rights reserved.]

The Jazz Century at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

Portrait of a Musician by Thomas Hart BentonThe Jazz Century, an exciting exhibit beginning in March and running through June of 2009, promises to be THE exhibition to see in Paris this spring after Picasso and The Masters finishes at the Grand Palais.

This is the first exhibition on such a large scale (over 1,000 objects) to explore the relationship between Jazz and the arts, including literature and film while focusing on the visual arts.

It is also a major departure for the sumptuously modern Musée du Quai Branly, which was built in 2006 by Jean Nouvel, the first new museum to be built in Paris in more than thirty years. The museum's permanent collection is the French national collection of ethnographic objects, so this exceptional exhibition marks a major step in the type of shows we can expect from the museum in the future.

The Jazz Century promises to be an interesting and comprehensive look at the phenomenon of the 'Jazz effect' on the visual arts, including 70 paintings by some of the greatest modern and contemporary artists on both sides of the Atlantic, from Matisse through to Dan Flavin and Jeff Wall.

Poster of Josephine BakerImportantly, the exhibition explores some of the great African-American movements of the last century such as the Harlem Renaissance, integral to the history of art in America but little known in Europe.

Jazz, along with cinema and rock, constitutes one of the major artistic developments of the 20th century. This hybrid style of music, born in the first years of that century, marked every aspect of world culture with its sounds and rhythms. The exhibition presents a chronological view of the relationship between jazz and art throughout the 20th century. The musical soundtrack guides visitors through the timeline of the exhibition, which includes posters, photographs, records, magazines, books and musical scores. Works by artists including Matisse, Picasso, Man Ray, Bob Thompson, Alexander Calder, Francis Picabia, Piet Mondrian, Jean Dubuffet, Jeff Wall and Dan Flavin illustrate the saga.  The exhibit begins pre-1917, goes through the various phases including the Swing Years of 1930-1939, Boogie Woogie during the years 1939 to 1945, Bebop from 1945 to 1960, right through to today's Contemporary Jazz.

The timeline of the exhibition takes visitors from Nobody by Bert Williams (1905) and Some of These Days by Sophie Tucker (1910), successes preceding the term 'jazz', to concerts at Lincoln Center in New York.  It doesn't forget the first jazz recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.  This comprehensive look at the world of Jazz should not be missed!

The Jazz Century
Musée du Quai Branly
Garden Gallery
March 17 - June 29, 2009
Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

[For complete details or more information, 
please visit the museum's web site at]

[Photos courtesy of Musée du Quai Branly, 2009.   All rights reserved.]

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