An impressively thorough look at the development of stained-glass art from World War II onwards.
It might sound perverse to say that World War II gave the stained-glass art form a new lease of life. But before 1945, the ancient craft was largely controlled by strict religious codes and had been all but abandoned as a creative medium. So when it came to rebuilding and restoring the broken windows that bore the brunt of the war’s shelling, artists like Rouault, Chagall, Braque and Matisse jumped at the chance to piece together the shattered, kaleidoscopic works. A new generation of artists would follow, taking cues from Le Corbusier in the way they sought to rebrand stained glass as an integral part of architectural design, not just in places of worship but in secular environments, too.
And so, in lieu of Bible scenes and traditional decorative or symbolic imagery, these artists’ works generally aimed to create a space for abstract thought and contemplation. The most recent (Gérard Garouste, Jean-Michel Alberola) have opted for slightly more traditional symbolism, but the American Robert Morris and his water scenes are a case in point.
A dearth of available works has clearly been an issue for the curators: many windows haven’t been removed for the exhibition and are instead replaced by replicas and other unused versions (though cleverly lit, it must be said). These are, however, supported by preparatory sketches, extensive documentation and a rich selection of photos (as well as a play area for kids), so the Cité de l’Architecture seems to have broached the topic from pretty much every angle. Particularly dazzling are Chagall’s blissful purple landscapes and Soulages’s contrasting monochromes. Throughout this exhaustive exhibit, we’re constantly reminded of the rich, but all too often sidelined potential of stained glass.