In the late Sixteenth Century, when court astrologist Cosimo Riggieri informed Queen Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589) that she would die near Saint-Germain, she naturally assumed that he meant the church Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, near her Tuileries Palace. Ironically, it was a priest named Julien de Saint-Germain, who presided over her eventual death. Nonetheless, the prediction prompted Catherine to move to a new residence, built for her by architect Jean Bullant, first called Hôtel de la Reine (Queen’s residence), then Hôtel Soissons (for one of its owners)—and eventually the site of the Bourse de Commerce.
Before French billionaire Francois Pinault decided to share his contemporary art collection with the public, The Bourse de Commerce, now The Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection, had diverse occupants and a long history over the past couple of centuries. Even once on the site, a home for wayward but repentant girls.
In 1765, Louis XVI commissioned a grain market there, called Halle aux Blés (wheat exchange) for the commercial trade of wheat, corn, flour and similar commodities. A circular structure originally with an open-air courtyard and, in 1783, a wooden dome, the Bourse had an arch so people could see through it to ascertain the level of food and grain in the middle. One of the first structures in Paris to use a wooden dome, it was influenced by Roman temples and their glorification of food.
An iron dome replaced the wooden one eventually and, in 1885, architect Henri Blondel began renovation on what was to become the Bourse de Commerce or Paris’s grain futures market. He retained the circular shape with 25 bays, its double staircase, and he modified the dome. Structurally the building’s double staircase to the upper lever allowed those who went up to avoid others on their way down.
From the outside, the shape of the cupola prompted writer Victor Hugo to criticize it as “an English style jockey cap on a large scale.” Today the dome is listed as a historic monument. On the pediment above its entrance sculptor Aristide Croisy carved allegorical figures of Abundance and Trade flanking the city of Paris.
Only the Medici column—probably then used for astrological viewing—remains from Catherine’s original residence. Carved inside are memorial symbols—mirror shards, love knots, and the initials C and H—of her grief over her lost love King Henri II. After her death it passed through multiple heirs, property owners, debtors, and was divided between royalty and aristocrats over time.
Now, Japanese architect Tadao Ando has transformed the building’s interior into a special cylinder while maintaining the structure’s status as a classified historical monument and preserving the interior domed space. He derived his interior plan of a cylinder and concentric circles from the the concept of Russian dolls “to serve as the link between the threads of time, the past, present and future…”
And he has made brilliant use of those staircases to create a contemporary helix-like modification that is as impressive, if not more so, than the art collection itself.
The renovation is masterful in general. Depending upon your art taste, you might enjoy the artwork. I found much of the art derivative from the mid 20th century—a touch reminiscent of Bruce Nauman, Richard Estes, Duchamp, Francis Bacon. To me much of it has a “so what” effect though I did enjoy artwork from Antonio Obà especially Sesta, which conjured a dream-like, welcomed pause in life and Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Café, a scene poised for the start of an evening’s gaiety. But there is surely something for everyone in the massive collection of 10,000 works of art representing nearly 400 artists from the 1960s to the present. For me the architecture is definitely worth a trip.