Now residing in the Reid Building ground floor corridor is the exhibition Eugène Bourdon, From the Classroom to the Battlefield. This exhibition focuses on the career of Paris-born Eugène Bourdon, The Glasgow School of Art’s first Professor of Architectural Design whose life was lost while serving with the French Forces at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. Curated by the GSA Archives and Collections Curator, Peter Trowles, this exhibition displays some of the 100+ architectural drawings produced by Bourdon in the 1890s whilst he was a student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This is the first exhibition dedicated to Bourdon that highlights many of his previously unseen work.
This year marks he 100th anniversary of the death of Eugène Bourdon and this exhibition is a poignant reminder of the great contribution that Bourdon made to the Glasgow School of Art and the terrible loss of life that was endured as a result of the First World War. Appointed as the first Professor of Architectural Design in 1904, Bourdon brought the Beaux-Art system of architectural education with him, a system he believed would improve the standard of architectural teaching at the GSA,
“the Beaux Arts system of architectural education consists of giving the foremost place to the Study of Design. It is assumed, as a matter of course, that the architect must have a complete training as a practical builder and as a man of business, and that he must be a man of education in a word, he must be a professional man. But these qualities, though necessary, are not sufficient to make an architect that is, an artist. Design is the proper function of the architect, and the training of young architects to design is the most important duty of architectural educators.”
Bourdon taught from 1904 until the outbreak of the First World War, where despite being 44, he volunteered to serve. He quickly reached the rank of Staff Captain in the 78th Brigade, was twice been mentioned in Army Dispatches and was awarded the Croix de la Legion d’Honneur, the Croix de Guerre and the British Military Cross. This exhibition not only shows a sample of Bourdon’s artistic ability but includes many pieces of correspondence from Bourdon to the School during the war and notes of sympathy after his passing, all of which attest to his character and abilities.
Captain of Reserve, Eugène Bourdon…has always been remarkable for his zeal and untiring activity. In the course of the fighting of the 9th to the 25th May last, acting on his own initiative, he went under a violent fire of infantry and artillery, to carry important orders to the first fighting line. Captain Bourdon acquitted himself of his mission with an audacity and coolness that won the admiration of everyone”
In particular it should be noted that while the correspondence in the GSA Archives and Collections marks much of his time as a professor at the School, the collection of drawings are all likely to have been brought over to Scotland by Bourdon on his appointment as staff in 1904 and would have been used by him as a teaching aid and as a source of inspiration for students. Such was the quality of Bourdon’s work that a Glasgow student later recalled:
” we worked our minds stupid and grew blear-eyed trying to rival the wonderful French ‘renderings’ which were at once our incentive and our despair”
More can be read about Eugene Bourdon and the records we hold relating to his life in the GSA Archives and Collections in the series of posts titled Remembering Bourdon researched and written by our Archives and Collections Project Assistant Fiona Hall. These can be found here.
This exhibition will run until the 4th December and I highly recommend you take this opportunity to look at some of the amazing, never-seen before work of Eugene Bourdon. Until next time!
GSA Archives and Collections, Remembering Bourdon part 3: Bravery and Life at the Front, extract from the Order of the Army (French), extract no. 77
GSA Archives and Collections, Eugene Bourdon
Eugene Bourdon: From the Classroom to the Battlefield, Exhibition Introduction
Glasgow School of Art, GSA Events
Glasgow School of Art, Eugene Bourdon 1870-1916
Journal of the Society of Architects, The Training of the Architect on Beaux Art Lines by Eugène Bourdon