French architect and engineer Marc Mimram won the prestigious Equerre d’Argent, (aka the silver T square) for his design of Pont de Solférino in December 1999. Paris’s youngest pedestrian bridge actually opened in September 2000, the delay due, of course, to the usual French fussiness over public artistic expression. This modern marvel of wood and steel soars across the Seine linking the Jardin des Tuileries to Musée d’Orsay. Today, the bridge’s side rails are laden with the popular love locks, and the public space teems with energy above and below. Beneath the dual level bridge is a playground quay filled with bikers, joggers, hopscotchers, scooters, rollerbladers, and more.
I am always amazed when lightness is achieved by the use of steel. The industrial metal seems contrary to such refinement. But like the Eiffel Tower, Passerelle Solférino achieves grace. It stretches with elegance to four points: the water and the higher embankment on both sides of the Seine. It replaced two previous bridges: one originally built to commemorate Napoléon III’s triumph (with the help of the Sardinian army) at the Battle of Solerino, in 1859, over the Austrian army. Opened in 1861, that bridge was replaced in 1961 by a practical but ugly bridge meant to be temporary but hung around for thirty years before being demolished in 1992. The new bridge was inaugurated in 1999 and renamed, in 2006, as the Léopold Sédar Senghor Bridge after the Senegalese poet politician. But that’s certainly a mouthful, and it is still referred to as Passerelle de Solférino.
Noel and I shot our selfie on the Solférino footbridge on our way to the Musée d’Orsay to see the lovely Pierre Bonnard exhibit on view till July 19, 2015. I have long coveted a small gem of a Bonnard painting at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, called a Narrow Paris Street Scene. That one is not in the exhibit, but Bonnard’s colorful palate fills nine rooms with landscapes, intimate daily rituals, still lifes, portraits, and nudes including Japanese influenced decorative panels and iridescent paintings created during his last years on the French Rivera. Some photographically sharp; others seen as if through gauze, all worth seeing as is the Musée d’Orsay, the old Beaux-Arts train station converted to a museum in 1986 and still en pleine forme.
The same cannot necessarily be said of the stainless steel meshing on the façade of the Ministry of Culture (near Palais Royale and the Louvre). Designed by Francis Soler in 2001, the metal art nouveau-ish lattice was meant to connect the old (a 1919 building) and the new (1960s modern). I love contemporary design, but what were they thinking?