Bathed in culture at La Piscine

La Piscine © T.Joly
Near Lille, there is a stunning Art Deco swimming pool that now houses a museum. In a setting that has remained faithful to the original architecture of the building, works of art are on display, including masterpieces by Rodin and Camille Claudel.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
230 km from Paris on autoroute A1 till Lesquin, then on A27, N227 and A22 till Roubaix
- By train
Direct TGV from Paris Gare du Nord to Roubaix or TGV from Paris Gare du Nord to Lille Flandres then TER till Roubaix. The journey takes from 1 h 20 mn to 2 h 20 mn depending on the trains.
- Hotels
Ibis Roubaix Centre
Grand Hôtel
- Bed and Breakfast
Abri du Passant
Meert –La Piscine
La Parenthèse
La Petite Vigne
La Piscine
23 rue de l’Espérance, 59100 Roubaix.
Open from Tuesday to Thursday from 11 am till 6 pm, Friday from 11 am till 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm till 6 pm.
Admission fees.
Permanent collections : €5.50 / €4.
Temporary exhibitions : €5.50 / €4.
Combined ticket : €9 / €6.
Tel : 0320692360
- Roubaix tourist office
Tel : 0320653190
- Nord – Pas de Calais tourist office
Tel : 0320145757
- La Piscine
In Roubaix, when the locals talk about the “Piscine” (swimming pool), they are probably talking about art and not swimming! The main museum of this northern French town is called simply that and it is also one of the most surprising and interesting in France.

La Piscine © T.Joly
 Remarkable glass walls
The museum is so called because it occupies what was once an Art Deco swimming pool, indeed the finest of its kind ever built in Europe. The work of a Lille architect named Albert Bear, it was built from 1927 to 1932 on behalf of the mayor and is a fine example of architecture of the hygienist movement that advocated “A healthy mind and a healthy body”. It is for this reason that one section of the building served as public baths and showers, as Roubaix was home, at that time, to many low-income workers.
Closed in 1985, the swimming pool reopened in 2002 and has since housed the town’s Art and Industrial Museum that was founded at the end of the 19th century and previously located in other premises. The renovation work, however, was completed in a way that preserved the original architecture: the remarkable glass walls lighting the Olympic pool, the Art Deco friezes, the freemason symbols recalling the architect’s beliefs, the Byzantine-inspired features, the showers, the changing rooms and the bathrooms.

La Piscine © T.Joly
 Pool lined with sculptures
All these areas now serve as exhibition space for a large collection of art. As for the former refreshment area, it has maintained its original role and is now managed by Meert, one of Lille’s finest pastry shops, renowned far and wide for its waffles. All this has transformed the Piscine into a magical place unique in the world.
Its heart and soul is the former 50-metre Olympic pool. Illuminated by pastel-coloured glass walls, its water is supplied by a fountain bearing Neptune’s head and is lined with sculptures reflected in the water, one side with 19th century works and the other with 20th century pieces – a scene you simply can never tire of seeing.
All around, the former showers and changing rooms contain stained glass, paintings and ceramics, including a number by Picasso, Dufy and Sébastien.

La Piscine © T.Joly
 A rich collection of clothes
On the first floor, a walkway leads to former changing rooms that now house a rich collection of clothes and preliminary fashion sketches that recall the industrial history of Roubaix, a town which, until recently, was an important textile centre. Here and there, installations allow visitors to touch and smell different kinds of clothes. A little further on, the former bathrooms are adorned with 19th and 20th centuries sculptures, including works by Rodin and Camille Claudel. In addition to its own collections, the Piscine holds in trust works from the Musée d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art.

La Piscine © T.Joly
 Games for children
With a more modern feel, the rooms dedicated to painting are arranged in chronological order and each one is devoted to a theme or an artist: childhood, orientalism, and so on. Among the canvases on display are works by world-famous artists such as Vuillard, Bernard, Vlaminck, Van Dongen, Dufy and Foujita. One family-friendly aspect of the museum is the way in which most of the rooms also have games for children that introduce them to art and allow them to understand the works in a simple way. Lastly, a former factory adjoining the Piscine has been refurbished and plays host, on a regular basis, to high-quality, temporary exhibitions of couture, design and art.

October 10, 2019
Thierry Joly