The story behind the bourse de commerce

by Fiona McMurrey
Courtesy of Numéro

If you have visited Les Halles in Paris, then no doubt you have seen the large, cylindrical building at the historic-market-turned-mall’s western end with a large silver horse and rider posed outside of it seemingly without any particular rhyme or reason. This building is known as the Bourse de Commerce which, since (insert year) has housed the extensive art collection of French businessman and billionaire François Pinault. However, the Bourse de Commerce was not always a glistening paean of modern art patronage, but rather has its roots in the 16th century. Long before François Pinault renovated the venerable edifice, the building was known for being a hôtel particulier for none other than the Queen Catherine de Medici equipped with a free standing column which served as an astronomy observatory for the Queen’s personal use. By the 18th century, the hotel had fallen into disrepair and was demolished though the city of Paris intervened and bought the observation tower, constructing around it a circular building employed as a center for wheat and corn exchange. In 1854 the building was converted into the Paris stock exchange, ultimately undergoing an intense redesign by commissioned architect Henri Blondel in 1889 who added the iconic rotunda and dome which mimicked both the French and Roman Pantheons.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, La Bourse de Commerce in 1803

For decades, the Bourse de Commerce served as a bustling center of economic activity, where merchants, traders, and financiers converged to conduct business. Inside its walls, fortunes were made and lost, and the pulse of Parisian commerce reverberated through its corridors. In the 21st century, the Bourse de Commerce underwent yet another transformation, this time into a beacon of culture and art. Acquired by the luxury goods conglomerate Kering in 2016, the building was entrusted to the renowned architect Tadao Ando for a visionary renovation project.

Tadao Ando, known for his mastery of minimalist design and reverence for space and light, embarked on a journey to seamlessly blend the old with the new. His design preserved the historic, Neoclassical elements of the building while introducing modern features to accommodate its new role as a contemporary art museum.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In May 2021, after years of meticulous planning and restoration, the Bourse de Commerce reopened its doors to the public as the Pinault Collection. Under the patronage of François Pinault, the esteemed art collector and founder of Kering, the museum showcases a diverse array of contemporary art from around the world such as Mira Schor, Charles Ray, and Jeff Koons.

Today, the Bourse de Commerce embodies the historical legacy of Paris, combining the past and present within one structure. The history of the Bourse de Commerce is a narrative of transformation, adaptation, and reinvention—a multifaceted reflection of the momentous changes of modern French history. From its innocuous beginnings as a grain trading center to its current incarnation as a cultural landmark, the Bourse de Commerce stands as a symbol of Parisian splendor and a testament to the enduring French emphasis on historical preservation and monumentality. As the building continues to evolve with cultural trends, one thing remains certain: the Bourse de Commerce will always hold a special place in the heart of Paris and in the annals of architectural history.