Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Café and curves
The Resident Wise Woman and I have a habit of parking in Park Street in Bristol and either climbing up the hill to browse in the Oxfam bookshop or going a bit further to find something to eat or drink. One day I wandered down the hill to College Green and, turning my back on the cathedral and library to my right, had a look above some of the shop fronts. This one stood out in particular: a study in turn-of-the-century classicism with a hint of baroque. There’s a mix of traditional details (the little pediments trailing stone carving down the wall) and elements that could only be from this period: above all the windows – the shallow bow; the segmental (curve-topped) window just above it; the tall, narrow openings right at the top; and those tiny round windows (oils de boeuf) below the pediments. All these are features straight from the school of turn-of-the-century English design.
But there’s something more. A mosaic frieze of stylized plant forms running in a band across the bow window. The pale-green stems twist and turn in curves that are more art nouveau, as if whoever designed this frontage wanted a hint of the continent, a breathe of French air, to enliven the building. On either side of this frieze are perhaps the best bits of all, a pair of lead canopies, flaring slightly and adorned with art nouveau pomegranate reliefs. The stems here form those multiple curves doubling back on themselves (‘whiplash curves’, in design-speak) that are so redolent of French and Belgian art nouveau. Such curves are not that common in England, but you find them occasionally on shop fronts that wanted to look highly fashionable between 1890 and 1910.
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In previous posts I’ve noted a full-blown art nouveau shop front in Cambridge and a hint of one in Leamington Spa.