The Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which is proud of the fact that it is the highest city in Europe, belongs to the Neuchâtel canton, in the Jura region. The city's economy is based on watches, with the manufacturing, sales and repair of all manner of watches, with various active industries having created a solid middle-class.
The development of Art Nouveau in La Chaux-de-Fonds is based on one man: Charles L'Eplattenier (1874-1946), an artist and teacher who founded an art school, the École d'Art. A Cours supérieur d'art et décoration, or higher course in art and decoration, began at the school in 1905 and this had an extraordinary influence - one only has to mention that Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, also known as Le Corbusier, studied drawing there. Charles L'Eplattenier's aim followed modern European school thought at the time: to draw directly from nature. But his final aim was to find an original decorative repertoire that could be called one's own, leaving to one side the more international forms of Art Nouveau to find inspiration in local flora and fauna. Consequently, L'Eplattenier developed Style Sapin, or "pine tree style", in reference to the tree that dominated the Jurassic Alps. But he also worked from other local models, such as the silver thistle or gentian. The most outstanding students from the school joined Ateliers d'art réunis, a specialised company dedicated to design and decoration, once they had completed their studies.
Style Sapin was based on numerous ornamental elements: watches and their cases to begin with, but also all types of decorative arts. Moreover, it was also present in architecture: for example, in the Villa Fallet (1906), in whose design Charles-Edouard Jeanneret participated, the Monument to the Republic (1910) by L'Eplattenier and, undoubtedly the most important work, the Crematorium built between 1909 and 1910.
The Crematorium project was by the municipal architect Robert Belli, in collaboration with Henri Robert, and all the decorative works were carried out by the Cours supérieur d'art et décoration, directed by Charles L'Eplattenier. It is a square building with a projecting body that corresponds to the entrance. Its façade is highlighted by a large portal crowned by a large golden bronze sculpture by L'Eplattenier, entitled Vers l'ideal. Inside is a large exquisitely decorated square hall that helps to create a dramatic, majestic environment, while at the same time converting the complex into one of the milestones of European Symbolist art.