Restoration of the Montparnasse station

Vasarely’s two colorful murals to be rediscovered in the setting of a renovated Montparnasse station

Travelers at the Gare Montparnasse can now admire or rediscover Victor Vasarely’s two monumental paintings, which have been restored to their full glory after a renovation and new lighting that enhances them, in this completely renovated hall. Vasarely’s ambition was to create a social art, to bring art into the city. In the Montparnasse train station, thousands of people in transit every day will be able to discover the colorful works of the Father of Optical Art. In 1971 the SNCF commissioned two large murals from the artist Victor Vasarely for the hall of the Montparnasse station. In the 1960s, the Montparnasse train station became part of a rapidly changing neighborhood and of the City of Paris’ plan to turn it into a business district. A new, more modern station was inaugurated in 1969. This is the current structure, which was reconfigured in 1989 to accommodate the TGV. The district in which it is located is that of the artists – those who passed through the Ranson Academy or the Grande Chaumière, those who settled there and established their studios, such as Bourdelle, Calder, Picasso, Duchamp, Foujita, Yves Klein, César… By choosing Victor Vasarely, the founder of the Op art movement, the SNCF confirmed the new station in the modernity of the time and brought art into the daily life of a large public. These two frescoes of equal dimensions, 32 meters long and 6 meters high, are part of the series of “architectural integrations” in Vasarely’s work. They illustrate for the artist the search for a unity of art and architecture. Like Le Corbusier for the Cité Radieuse in Marseille, Vasarely introduces into the space a polychromy that structures the place and breaks with the grey concrete ensembles. In 2019, the two frescoes will be renovated as part of the major modernization of the station. These works, which have been on the walls of the station for 47 years, had never been restored. The paintings were placed under a ceiling in poor condition and conducive to pigeon nesting. An ambitious restoration campaign, carried out in two stages, has given back their colors to the two large murals by Victor Vasarely. The intervention was led by a team of restorers specialized in Contemporary Art, coordinated by Aurélia Chevalier, Heritage Restorer, composed of Nahema Borrel and Alex Vanopbroeke. This consisted in cleaning the colored layer which was altered by pigeon droppings, water drips and above all a thick layer of dirt. Several gaps were reintegrated into the surrounding color and the lifts of material or plaster were refixed. Today the Montparnasse station is completely renovated with redesigned spaces and a redesigned shopping mall. The two original paintings by Victor Vasarely have been restored to their original state. The walls are now shiny and protected from any alteration due to environmental conditions.

The new lighting allows us to admire the real colors created by Vasarely. These integrations attract the eye of all publics, initiated or not, and are accessible to the greatest number in accordance with the artist’s wishes. “It is in the crowds that art must be spread. […] Here is the unlimited space” wrote Victor Vasarely.