The Paris-Lyon Station Buffet
The Gare de Lyon was part of the colossal town-planning initiative that accompanied the Exhibition in 1900 and which gave us the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Alexander III Bridge etc. From the outside, it evokes the Belle Epoque fairly discreetly. However, it is inside that the best-preserved and most stunning examples of 1900 style are to be found.
Emile Loubet, the French President, inaugurated the Lyon Station Buffet, with its immense rooms, crammed with sculptures, gilt and vast paintings, on 7th April 1901.
It is the paintings that capture one’s attention right from the start. There are 41 paintings depicting, naturally, rail network sites and also events in 1900.
There follows a description of some points of interest.
The tableau by BILLOTTE above the stairway leading down to the station platforms represents the Alexander III Bridge and the Palaces that housed the Exhibition in 1900, reminiscent of Saint-Mark’s in Venice.
The three ceilings of the main dining room are the work of three different painters: “PARIS”, by François FLAMENG (1845 – 1923) who also decorated the Sorbonne, and the Opéra-Comique opera house; “LYON” by DEBUFE; and “MARSEILLE” by SAINT-PIERRE.
Particularly noteworthy, on the end wall of the main dining room, is the main painting which depicts the “Théâtre d’Orange” by Albert MAIGNAN (1845-1908). His style and palette are luminous. They transport us with ease to that ancient wall in ORANGE and his characters have retained all their expressiveness and movement.
Very good portraits may be seen here: DERVILLE, the Chairman of the PLM, and NOBLEMAIRE, the General Manager; and illustrious actresses Sarah BERNHARDT, REJANE, and Madam BARTET alongside Edmond ROSTAND.
The “VILLEFRANCHE” and the “MONACO” are by Frédéric MONTENARD (1849-1926), who studied under PUVIS de CHAVANNES and played a major role in the world of the arts, founding the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (the National Fine Art Society).
The painting on the ceiling in the Gold Room is by a very well known artist “Nice the Battle of Flowers” by Henri GERVEX (1852-1929) who was a friend of RENOIR.
The signature OLIVE may be found at the bottom of the tableaux “SAINT-HONORAT” and “MARSEILLE, le Vieux Port” in the gilded room. OLIVE, born in Marseille in 1949, enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a painter of seascapes.
Finally, it must not be forgotten that the PLM was the network of the Alps.
One painting by Eugène BURNAND (1850-1921) evokes Mont Blanc in the difficult style of mountain painting - BURNAND also painted the famous “Panorama des Alpes Bernoises” which toured the world in ANTWERP, CHICAGO, GENEVA, and PARIS.
All these paintings continue produce an exact and radiant evocation of the multiple landscapes covered by the network, as intended by those who created this décor.
They plunge the visitor into a happy and optimistic atmosphere, perhaps overly exuberant for some tastes, but which captivates and charms all who gaze on them, tourist and Parisian alike, before returning to the streets.
It is not by mere chance that Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Jean Gabin, Marcel Pagnol and many others have been regulars here.
The restaurant also inspired Luc Besson, who filmed a scene from “Nikita” on site, Nicole Garcia in “Place Vendôme” ,Pierre Jolivet in “Filles Uniques” or again Steve Bendelack in « Les vacances de Mister Bean ».