La Piscine Museum

Musée d’Art et d’Industrie Andre Diligent, Roubaix

By Roger Allnutt

The name La Piscine should have given me a clue but when I walked in the door to the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie Andre Diligent in Roubaix in northern France I was blown away, positively gob-smacked. The interior of the museum is an astonishing old Art Deco swimming pool with water splashing in the central water feature with the interior illuminated by a large fan shaped window depicting the rising sun.

Between 1927 and 1932, a swimming pool was constructed in Roubaix which is a town close to the industrial city of Lille. The design by Lille architect Albert Baert was in flamboyant Art Deco style. Although principally for the local well-to-do, it also served as a public bathhouse for the many workers who poured into Roubaix to work at the textile factories; their houses had no electricity or running water. It was known as a ‘temple of hygiene’!

Originally an Olympic sized pool the building operated as a pool until its closure in 1985 when it was remodeled as a museum. There is a small garden outside with a new modern entrance and the large entrance areais dominated by a superb photograph of swimmers in old style bathers.

During the remodelling, much of the pool was filled in but a long ‘stream’ rather like a lap pool remains evoking the original purpose. The flamboyant swirling wave- like ceramic tiles are still there giving a rather Japanese look. As you walk into the main area you are taken back to its original purpose by a soundtrack of children, now long gone, happily splashing about in the water.

Both sides of the pool are lined with sculptures and statues that take in 19th-century neo-classical works by the likes of Latour and Rodin up to 20th-century works by Bonnard and Vlaminck among others.

The old changing rooms that lead off the pool area and the corridors in front and behind now house wonderful displays ranging from exhibitions featuring the textile industry from Roubaix’s heyday including old pattern books and textile samples up to contemporary work. The styles and patterns are old but seem incredibly modern.

Other display areas contain wonderful examples of fine and applied art with displays of painting, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and glass by both local artists and internationally known names. I was particularly taken with the ceramic collection including works by Picasso and Raoul Dufy.The museum’s permanent collection has its origins in 1835, when a collection of fabric samples from the many local textile factories was started. In later years this was extended to include elements of literature, fine arts, science and industrial products. After being housed in different locations the new museum opened in 2000.

Nowadays the museum, in addition to its more permanent displays, showcases exhibitions featuring works by more recent or current artists, often local. When we visited there was a superb exhibition of modern furniture by Pierre Vandel and paintings by 20th century artist Andre Maire.

Prior to a recent visit to France the only time I had heard of the town of Roubaix was as the finishing place of the famous Paris-Roubaix bike race, the first races of the European professional bike racing calendar. The race is famous for the run into Roubaix over rough cobbled streets, often very treacherous when rain has been falling as it does regularly.

Roubaix has some other excellent attractions. The Hotel de Ville on one side of a very grand central square is imposing and directly opposite is a lovely cathedral. There are many public gardens of which Parc Barbieux, rather English in style with sweeping lawns, large pools, colourful flower beds and many trees is a pleasant place for a stroll and watch the locals parading or picnicking.

Fact file
La Piscine Museum is located at 23 Rue de l’Esplanade, Roubaix. Closed on Monday.

Web: www.roubaix-lapiscine.com/

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