The Bourse du travail: a Must-See Art Deco Palace in Bordeaux
Art Deco in Bordeaux? It’s not as strange as you might first think. Bordeaux is known for its 18th-century architecture, its quayside façades and its protected area. However, off the historical beaten path, Bordeaux also offers several lesser-known gems. The Bourse du travail is a building exemplifying the Art Deco style. It is without a doubt one of the crown jewels among the forgotten and neglected wonders that must be seen.
Commissioned by the mayor of Bordeaux, Adrien Marquet, who wanted to offer a “labor building” to unions, the Bourse du travail opened on May 1st, 1938 as a beautiful, symbolic gift to the workers of Bordeaux and the surrounding area. Jacques d’Wells, the city architect, designed the building and top Bordeaux artists contributed to decorating it and glorifying Bordeaux‘s riches.
Time has passed, and the Bourse du travail is no longer the meeting place for laborers, even though the CGT (Confédération générale du travail [General Confederation of Labor]) still occupies it for several hours per week. It almost disappeared. The fifth floor was so deteriorated that it had to be destroyed and was then rebuilt exactly the same as before. The façade is being renovated and is covered with nets to prevent concrete from falling on passers-by.
Located on a bustling street in Bordeaux leading to the Place de la Victoire and the train station, it is virtually ignored. When people take the Cours Aristide Briand road by car, taxi, bus, bike or on foot, they are in a hurry; they don’t have time to stroll. The neighborhood doesn’t lend itself to walking and is not part of a tourist route. Without stepping back, it’s hard to fully admire this imposing building; the austerity of the glass doors and the lack of information also discourage those who are curious but not bold.
Step through the last doors on the right, as I like to do, and you will enter into a surprising world. Vast and silent, the great hall on the ground floor looks like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Several posters remind you of this building’s purpose as a place for laborers.
And that’s not all to see. Take the majestic staircase to the second floor, where the treasures of the Bourse du travail hide. The large 1,500-seat room that I remember being occupied by building site huts has a scene captured in a fresco by the painter Jean Dupas. Around the Bordeaux arms, he imagined a strong, colorful composition with Pheme playing her trumpet and Bacchus creating wine and exotic characters in remembrance of Bordeaux‘s colonial history.
The two surrounding halls are not to be missed either. To the right, Camille de Buzon represents the port through a blonde goddess lifting a ship above her head. On one side, you can see Bordeaux residents carrying out their daily tasks, and on the other side are colonial commodities entering France and Europe through Bordeaux’s port. In the background, you can see the arches of the Pont de pierre. In the fresco to the side, André Caverne shows Bordeaux‘s architecture: the quayside façades, the Grosse Cloche and the Grand Théâtre.
In the left hall, François-Maurice Roganeau glorifies wine and vines. A languid character in front of a cornucopia overflowing with grapes is at the center of the painting. He is surrounded by harvesters of all ages with their baskets and men holding glasses of wine, joyful with the sound of the accordion. Behind, Apollo commands his horses. The fresco above by Albert Bégaud celebrates the Landes Forest with its ferns and pine trees.
When you leave the building, turn around to see the bas-relief of a Parisian, Alfred Janniot, on the façade of the Bourse du travail. This is also a work dedicated to the glory of Bordeaux.