24 May 2011

Paris 1900: Objets d'Art

Have you ever visited a museum with a friend, only to be unable to drag your companion beyond the gift shop?    Then you know what it feels like to research the Universal Exposition of 1900.   Yes the architecture, most of it temporary, was beguiling and well photographed.  It is a shame that the Georges de Feure's frescoes decorating the outside of the pavilion for l'Art Nouveau Bing have not been preserved.  But what about the art works that won all the medals?

One way to understand the variety of objects on display at Paris 1900 is to think how an ordinary street scene looks.  While some people look  a la mode, others are the image of last year, and some are backdated to previous eras - hippies, beatniks, etc.   
In Carlo Bugatti's two-fold screen we can see intimations of  Art Deco imposed on the curvilinear.  Even the large round sun/eye set in concentric circles looks geometric here.  Bugatti (1856-1940) was from a prominent Milanese family; his sister married the painter Giovanni Segantini and the composer Giacomo Puccini was a family friend.  Carlo trained as an architect, trying his ideas on ceramics, textiles, silverware, and even musical instruments before finding fame as a designer of furniture. 
His use of expensive materials (copper, mother of pearl, exotic woods) made for spectacular results, but also hinted at the limitations that the Deco movement would come up against during an economic Depression.  After winning a silver medal at Expo 1900, Bugatti was commissioned to design and furnish a Turkish salon for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.

Born Georges Joseph van Sluyters to a Dutch father and a Belgian mother, Georges de Feure (1868-1943) was canny enough to realize that Gallicizing his name would boost his career in Paris.  That said, the extremely independent young artist abandoned formal studies as soon as his parents allowed. 
Influenced, as he admitted, by the style of premier poster artist Jules Cheret, de Feure became the key designer at l'Art Nouveau Bing.   His exquisite, sensuous porcelains, like his iris  and tulip vases, convey the eros of flowers as strongly as the flower paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe would.

The Swedish Rorstrand manufacturer and designer Nils Emil Lundstrom (1865-1960) produced beautiful porcelains on similar floral, vegetal, and animal themes, but in a cooler style.  Colors both delicate and subtle are used to create an effect that is part abstraction and part orientalism in this vase.

The fanciful ovoid coffee cup sits on a petal saucer that avoids overwhelming cuteness by being blue, rather than the expected green.  Nature, worshiped unnaturally, with the utmost artifice.

1. Carl Thiel - Chateau of Water, Paris Universal Exposition, 1900, BPK, Berlin.
2.Carlo Bugatti - two-fold screen, c.1898, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
3. Clement Massier - vase, no date, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
4. Georges de Feure - iris vase, c.1900, Limoges.
5 .Meisenthall Cristallerie - vase with arums, c. 1897-1903, Museum of Glass, Meisenthal.
6. Nils-Emil Lundstrom - for Rorstrand Pottery - vase, c.1897-1910,  Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
7. Rorstrand Pottery, ovoid coffee cup, no date, Musee Andre Dubouche, Limoges.
8. Alphons Mucha - fragment from a frieze from the Bosnia-Herzgovina Pavilion - Paris, 1900, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.


Kristin H said...

On my way to Paris this weekend, so excited. what a pitty the frescoes have not been preserved,

Jane said...

Kristin, lucky you! As for frescoes, at least several large pieces of Mucha's friezes are in the collection of Musee d'Orsay. Bon voyage.

Andy McEwan said...

Most interesting...as always. Your reference to Carlo Bugatti set me to thinking what a talented family the Bugattis were. Carlo's sons clearly inherited their father's artistry. Rembrandt (1884-1916) was a renowned sculptor in the animalier genre. His older brother, Ettore (1881-1947), was the designer and engineer of some of the most beautiful automobiles ever made. The Bugatti was described as "le pur-sang des automobiles." They are also often described as "works of art." I suppose, when you come to think of it, there are strong parallels between furniture design, sculpture and automobile design.

Hels said...

I fell in love with the concept of world fairs a while back; they were the best way to see what was modern and exciting across the world, and they happened each 5 years or so.

I loved all world fairs but you were right to select Paris' Universal Exposition of 1900 in particular. It wasn't called the Exposition of the Century for nothing. Carlo Bugatti's two-fold screen was especially amazing. Hard to believe he designed this in c1898.

A very useful book is Great Exhibitions: The World Fairs 1851-1937, written by Robert Wilson and published by National Gallery of Victoria in 2008.

Jane said...

Andy,very interesting, thank you. What a double burden - to have a father as talented as Carlo Bugatti and to pursue the same line of work and, on top of that, to be given the name Rembrandt

Jane said...

Hels, also very interesting. About World's Fairs, I could have pointed out that, just as the 1900 fair highlighted Art Nouveau at its peak, so the 1925 fair did the same for Art Deco. Speaking of books, I sense an opening for a good book in English about the Bugattis.

DSM said...

That architectural illustration is magical; but I'll take the Bugatti screen, pleeeeez.

Jane said...

DSM, I sometimes think the Art Nouveau style went dormant (to be revived in the 1960s)because even exquisite beauty gets boring after a while. As for the Bugatti screen, surely someone talented could make a good knock-off, but that leaves me out.

Neil said...

Fantastic post, Jane. This particular exhibition is only rivaled by the Great Exhibition of 1851 in importance, but it doesn't seem to have had a similar amount of attention paid to it.

Jane said...

Neil, what was fun about tracking down pieces that had been shown at Paris was seeing how various they are. The Rorstrand coffee cup reminds me of contemporary pieces (that I own).

paris said...

What amazing pieces of a truly lost time in our history, I just love the coffee cups, such an elegant piece.

Jane said...

Paris, the year 1900 is often remembered for the Exposition in Paris and the works displayed there. It seems that styles, no matter how lovely, get (temporarily) worn out from overuse. Art Deco, flamboyant colors, were coming soon.
Glad you enjoyed this.