In a stunningly beautiful Art Deco building, that was once a public swimming pool, you will find La Piscine Museum of Art and Industry. In the past I had seen some lovely pictures of the museum but nothing beats seeing things for yourself so I was really looking forward to this visit. Our guide, Arnout, from the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, was eager to show us around and to tells us about the museum’s fascinating history.
Roubaix, was once a flourishing textile town but the living conditions of the mainly immigrant workers were dreadful. In 1927 the mayor of Roubaix, Jean-Baptiste Lebas, who later became France’s Minister for Labour, commissioned architect Albert Baert to design a public swimming baths for the workers.
The swimming pool had separate male and female 1 hour sessions and there were also individual bathrooms, over 20 each for men and women. These could be rented for half an hour for an affordable fee. At that time the workers would not have had access to hot water at home so women also used the baths to wash their laundry as well as themselves! In addition to this there were steam rooms, a garden, chapel and restaurant.
During the Second World War, while France was occupied, Lebas was a leading figure in the French resistance but eventually he was deported and sentenced to hard labour. Despite his absence he was re-elected as mayor not once but twice by the people of Roubaix. Sadly, unknown to the loyal citizens, before his second re-election he had already died. In 1949, a monument was raised to his memory and his body was returned to France in 1951.
La Piscine today
The swimming pool was forced to close in 1985 as the structure had become unsafe but the site was re-designed by Jean-Paul Philippon and fully renovated. It reopened as an art museum in 2001 and houses an impressive collection of 19th and 20th century art with paintings, drawings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics and glassworks by both local and international artists. As well as this wonderful collection of art, the building itself is really worth seeing and will take your breath away. It did mine!
A wooden floor has been placed along either side of what was originally part of the pool leaving a thinner pool still on display. This can be covered over completely when events such as fashion shows are occasionally held here.
A former industrial town, Roubaix has reinvented itself to become is a cosmopolitan, exciting place to live or visit. La Piscine is just one example of how disused buildings have been used in new and imaginative ways.
Museum’s website: La Piscine
Museums in and near Lille: Lille Tourist Office
Photography © Alain Leprince M.A.I.A.D