Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

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Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, portrait by Martin Drolling, 1790

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (born March 21, 1736 in Dormans , today's Marne department , † November 18, 1806 in Paris ) was a classicist French architect who carried out numerous public and private construction projects. But he also designed completely utopian buildings and, together with Étienne-Louis Boullée, is considered to be the main exponent of French revolutionary architecture .


Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was born on March 21, 1736 in Dormans on the Marne, 100 kilometers east of Paris. His parents, Claude Ledoux and Françoise Dominot, led a petty bourgeois and modest life, but he always fondly remembered the “down-to-earth, righteous” rural life in the village community, as his later work showed. Agricultural reform and the development of the provinces became an important issue for him.

On July 26, 1764 Ledoux married in the Église Saint-Eustache of Paris Marie Bureau († August 30, 1792), the daughter of the musician Joseph-Grégoire Bureau. With her he had two daughters - Adelaïde-Constance (1771–1794) and Alexandrine-Euphrasie (* 1775).


Due to the talent that was noticeable early in the local parish school, Ledoux received a grant from the local diocese to study at the Collège de Beauvais in Paris, which he began in 1749. His teacher Rollin taught according to the didactic method of the morceaux choisis , i.e. H. the pupils got to know the usual educational canon of the classical and contemporary periods through selected quotations from the recognized authorities. Ledoux's knowledge of geometry , poetics , philosophy, and rhetoric ranged from classical to contemporary works. It was shaped by the Enlightenment , rationalism and Freemasonry with their ideals of community and by the educational canon of Diderot's encyclopedia.

In 1753 Ledoux began an apprenticeship as an engraver and after graduating in 1758 he studied architecture at the private architecture and art school "École des Arts" in Paris, founded by Jacques-François Blondel . This course imparted to him the knowledge of antiquity with a focus on order and proportion, the designs of the Renaissance - presumably via the "English detour" - and the then current topics of the architectural debate, i. H. Logic, method, rigor and character - in the sense of an unmistakable harmony of form and function - in contrast to the still dominant Rococo style . Numerous theorists demanded that the function and characteristics of a building should be recognizable from the outside, while at the same time the question of the facade, honesty or masquerade arose.

Buildings and projects

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux on a portrait by Marguerite Gérard, 1788/89

Ledoux's first important commission as an architect was in 1762 to design the Café Godeau (“Café Militaire”), a meeting place for the Parisian upper class. In the following years he built numerous palaces, villas and country castles for this circle, such as the pavilion of Madame Dubarry , who became his most important sponsor, in Louveciennes (near Paris) and the garden facade of the hotel by Franz-Joseph Hallwyl, a colonel of the Swiss Guard . He built the castle of Brienon-l'Archevêque for Cardinal de Luynes. With this work, Ledoux attracted attention at court, and so he was entrusted with public offices in the first decade of his career. He worked for the road, bridge and forest authorities, built country churches and in 1771 became authorized representative for the salt mines in Franche-Comté and Lorraine .

In this function he undertook an inspection trip in 1771, during which he recognized the inefficiency of the salt pans , especially in today's Salins-les-Bains (in the French Jura). Ledoux proposed the construction of a new salt works 17 kilometers away, on the edge of the Chaux forest. The salt water should be piped there, because "it is easier to send the water on a journey than to drive a forest piece by piece through the area".

King Louis XV commissioned the project in April 1773 as the owner of all the salt pans. A year later, Ledoux presented his first draft, in 1774 the second. The foundation stone was laid on April 15, 1775. The work should take three years. Les Salines Royales , the royal saltworks in today's Arc-et-Senans, became Ledoux's main work. In his architectural treatise from 1804, Ledoux presented the buildings of the salt works in Arc-et-Senans as part of a large, only partially implemented urban and social plan that was reduced to the buildings for salt production. Most likely, however, no further buildings were planned at the site of the salt pans; Ledoux only designed his urban utopia in retrospect .

In Hessian service

Draft for the redesign of the facade of the Kassel residential palace

From November 1775 to February 1776, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux stayed in Kassel as a guest of Landgrave Friedrich II . From this time three drafts for construction work that were not carried out are known. According to Ledoux's plans, Friedrichsplatz , which was under construction at that time, was to be strongly influenced in its proportions. On the one hand, the Museum Fridericianum was to gain monumentality through a greatly increased roof landscape, and on the other hand, the southern end of the square was to be emphasized by an approximately 25-meter-high triumphal arch with adjacent colonnades. Neither was the extensive redesign of the facade of the old city palace carried out. The Kassel court architect Simon Louis du Ry reported to his sister on February 25, 1776 that Ledoux had left Kassel "in the worst mood" after he was dissatisfied with her in his opinion was too low wages. Despite this break with the Kassel court, Ledoux was granted the title of "Controlleur Général et Ordonnateur des Bâtimens", which Frederick II had bestowed on him in December 1775, until the Landgrave's death in 1785 in Hessen-Kassel Head of the Hesse-Kassel construction industry. Du Ry makes no secret of his rejection of Ledoux in the letter to his sister, but influences from Claude-Nicolas Ledoux can be seen in the work of his successor Heinrich Christoph Jussow . Decades later, with Jussows Auetor, a triumphal arch was built as the end of Friedrichsplatz and the plans for the reconstruction of the abandoned Landgrave's castle as a so-called Chattenburg around 1820 cautiously cite Ledoux's influences.

Return to France

He built the theater in Besançon and erected the Hôtel de Thellusson in Paris in 1778 . Ledoux's last major project was the design of the customs buildings as part of the wall of the general tenants ( Ferme générale, Mur des Fermiers généraux ) built in 1785 . This penultimate of the Paris city walls served the collection of excise duties so excise duties and inland duties. Over a length of 24 kilometers, the wall was supposed to prevent the evasion of the road toll that was levied when goods were imported into the city. But after two years Ledoux was released from the task because of the high costs. Most of the guardhouses known as pavillons d'octroi soon fell victim to the fire of the revolution. The Rotonde de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, the Rotonde de Monceau in Parc Monceau , the Barrière du Trône ( Place de la Nation ) and the Barrière d'Enfer ( Place Denfert-Rochereau ) have been preserved to this day.

Ledoux's work was controversial during his lifetime. In his buildings he mixed quotes from classical antiquity ( Vitruvius ) to the Renaissance ( Palladio ) with his own, sometimes utopian, ideas (geometric objects as structural forms). He violated the postulate of the time that form and function were unambiguous. For example, the industrial buildings in the Saline Royale have elaborate decorations with columns and archways, the apartments of the saltworks workers have a stylized urn reminiscent of mythological fountain figures, from which brine seems to flow, as the only light opening. In many of his buildings and designs, their purpose is only recognizable from the inside. He planned and built too complex and too expensive, especially the functional buildings (such as the Paris customs building, but also many designs such as the houses of lock keepers, hall guards, gardeners and other craftsmen). On the other hand, with the Salines Royales he succeeded in creating a very harmonious building ensemble, which thanks to its symmetry, order and design in detail, such as B. the play of light and shadow in the facades, aesthetically convincing. He set standards in theater construction, e.g. B. with the introduction of an orchestra pit and increasing rows of spectators with seats for all walks of life. Ledoux had a keen sense for the playful or dramatic surprising effects of stairs, ramps, gates and other entrances to buildings, which in multiple combinations and distributed over several levels offer the visitor new perspectives. This is particularly evident in the approx. 60 architectural models in the Ledoux Museum in the Saline Royale, which were made for the exhibition rooms according to his designs. Noteworthy are the model of a bridge over the Loue, the pillars of which stand in stone barges that seem to float against the current in the river, and the model of a customs ship in the form of a neoclassical gondola that carries a Palladian temple.

Realized buildings

  • 1762: Design of the "Café Militaire" in rue Saint-Honoré, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1763: Château de Mauperthuis, Mauperthuis (destroyed)
  • 1765: Hôtel du président Hocquart on rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1766: Hôtel d'Halwyll on rue Michel-le-Comte, Paris
  • 1767: Hôtel d'Uzès in rue Montmartre, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1769: Château de Bénouville in Bénouville (Calvados)
  • 1770: Maison de Mlle Saint-Germain in rue Saint-Lazare, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1771: Pavillon d'Attilly in faubourg Poissonnière, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1771: Pavillon de musique de Madame du Barry in Louveciennes (largely rebuilt)
  • 1771: Hôtel de Montmorency in the boulevard des Capucines, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1778: Saline royale (Royal Saltworks) in Arc-et-Senans (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982)
  • 1778: Hôtel Thellusson on rue de Provence, Paris (destroyed)
  • 1779: Besançon Theater (interior destroyed and not reconstructed after a fire in 1958)
  • 1785: Construction of the "barrières" (customs houses) for the Fermiers généraux in Paris (four of the forty or so "barrières" originally built were preserved)

Theoretical work

The French Revolution suddenly put an end to the architectural work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, as he was a representative and builder of the Ancien Régime and had signed his plans with the addition “Architecte du Roi” (architect of the king). On November 29, 1793, he was imprisoned for a good year (released on January 13, 1795) and escaped murder by the tribunals by writing his book about the Chaux saltworks as a prototype of democratic coexistence. His life was now financed by patrons, Ledoux devoted himself entirely to the theoretical work and processing of his entire oeuvre.

Before he died in 1806, only the first volume of his four-volume work L'Architecture considerée sous le rapport de l'art, des moeurs et de la législation was published. It contained the description of an ideal city called Chaux . It is the utopia of a builder condemned to inactivity who tried to defend himself and his work in the newly established state order.


  • Michel Gallet: Claude-Nicholas Ledoux. Life and work of the French "revolutionary architect". Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-421-02800-1 .
  • Claude-Nicholas Ledoux: L 'architecture considerée sous le rapport de l' art, des moeurs et de la législation. 2 volumes (reprint) Uhl, Nördlingen 1981 and 1984, ISBN 3-921503-81-7 and ISBN 3-921503-60-4 .
  • Anthony Vidler: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Architecture and Utopia in the Age of the French Revolution. Birkhäuser, Basel 2006, ISBN 978-3-7643-7484-6 .
  • The royal salt works of Arc-et-Senans. Nouvelle Editions Scala, Paris 2011, ISBN 978-2-35988-048-9 .

Web links

Commons : Claude-Nicolas Ledoux  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Cornelius Steckner: Ledoux, Kassel and the American War of Independence. , in: XXVIIe Congrès International d'Histoire de l'Art. L'Art et les Revolutions, Strasbourg 1992, pp. 345-372
  2. ^ Dorothea Heppe: The castle of the Landgraves of Hesse in Kassel from 1557 to 1811. Marburg 1995, ISBN 3-89445-183-1 . Pp. 246-249.
  3. Wolf von Both, Hans Vogel: Landgrave Friedrich II of Hessen-Kassel - A prince of the braid time. Munich 1973, ISBN 3-422-00660-5 . Pp. 177-184
  4. Christoph Dittscheid: Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe and the crisis in palace construction at the end of the Ancien Régime - Charles De Wailly, Simon Louis Du Ry and Heinrich Christoph Jussow as architects of the palace and Löwenburg in Wilhelmshöhe (1785 - 1800). Worms 1987, ISBN 978-3-88462-029-8 . P. 73f
  5. Christoph Dittscheid: Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe and the crisis in palace construction at the end of the Ancien Régime - Charles De Wailly, Simon Louis Du Ry and Heinrich Christoph Jussow as architects of the palace and Löwenburg in Wilhelmshöhe (1785 - 1800). Worms 1987, ISBN 978-3-88462-029-8 . P. 73
  6. Kassel, Chattenburg, presentation drawing of the longitudinal front towards the Fulda, elevation