As a swimming pool, La Piscine must have been a haven for workers living and working in Roubaix’s textile factories. It echoed Mallet-Stevens’s call for light, sport and hygiene, but much lower down the social scale. It’s a different kind of spectacle from the Villa Cavrois; despite the Art Deco sunbursts at either end and the restaurant area, part of the original complex is backward-looking, with the Italianate entrance and the cloister-like gardens. The pool was closed in 1985 but the building (and its wonderful interior) have been converted into an art gallery and a textile museum.
I imagine middle-aged French people have their own unfashionable 19th-century favourites that they’ve known forever – the equivalent of Hubert von Herkomer or Ford Maddox Brown for me. Do Jules Bastien-Lepage and Rémy Cogghe fit that bill? They’re becoming more familiar to me. Cogghe in particular is a crowd-pleaser, but he does it very well.
I can’t decide whether there is more painted naked female flesh in French galleries than in British; I shall have to take my set square and compasses next time I go to one.
After visiting the V&A last week, I found the fabric sample books from the late 19th century interesting: you could see the development of mass-produced fabric and the development of pattern and dyes.
Some paintings I noted. The Kennington is disquieting: what is going on? The Gruber glass (particularly the pine cones in the top corner) reminded me of Nancy. And the Marat – I’ll check when I get home, but I’m sure it’s in Arthur Mee.
Like some eastern German towns, Roubaix has declined from the days of its grandest buildings. Even back streets used as dog toilets have buildings with touches of grandeur. The town hall façade is quite remarkable for the amount of decoration and pride in its wool trade it manages to cram on; I hate to think what colour it must have been when Roubaix really was a working town.
And this is one that I dashed off the tram for (built 1904 by architect Élie Dervaux/Derveaux):