Charles Garnier’s Opéra de Paris, a grand neo-Baroque pile inaugurated in 1875, has always been associated with its designer (to the point that the building was renamed Palais Garnier in 1989). The commission to design this iconic Parisian landmark, however, was very nearly given to Charles Rohault de Fleury who, as official architect of the Opéra de Paris from1846 to 1860, selected the site and determined the context of surrounding streets and buildings in which the Opéra is set.
Charles Rohault de Fleury trained at the École Polytechnique and the École des Beaux-Arts from 1820 to 1825, where his teachers included Jean Nicolas Louis Durand and Louis Hippolyte Lebas respectively. A successful career followed, initially in practice with his father Hubert, and then continuing on his own with designs for houses and villas, experiments with iron and glass, and official appointments. In 1833 he succeeded Jacques Molinos as architect of the Muséum nationale d’Histoire naturelle and in 1846 was named official architect of the Paris Opéra. The appointment to the Opéra was to be both the highlight and the great disappointment of his career.
Four albums of drawings relating to Rohault de Fleury’s work for the Opéra de Paris contain early projects of 1846 and 1847, alterations and additions undertaken from 1850 to 1855 to the existing Salle Le Pelletier, and a final proposal in 1859, when it appeared that Charles was favoured to build the new opera house. Only his work in choosing the site for the Opéra was to have lasting impact, as Charles Garnier emerged as the victor of a public competition in 1860. Additional portfolios from 1846 contain drawings and prints in which the potential of nine separate Parisian sites is investigated and evaluated, including estimates for expropriating existing properties on each site. After losing the competition for the Opéra, Charles Rohault de Fleury effectively retired from practice, devoting most of his later years to writings on Christian art and architecture.
In addition to the material related to the Opéra de Paris, the CCA holds the bulk of the Rohault de Fleury family archive including nearly fifty albums and portfolios containing over 2,000 drawings.