A French Art Nouveau "Grenouilles" beechwood cabinet by Emile Gallé. This carved cabinet features dragonfly, mushroom, and landscape marquetry decoration, as well as carved frog-leg feet and a pierced dragonfly design in the top gallery. The panel for the key escutcheon is cast in bronze with the complementary pattern (left and right) in carved wood. Similar cabinet pictured in: "Art Nouveau Furniture," by Alastair Duncan, p. 74, no. 62. As well as in Emile Gallé, by Philippe Garner, p. 84
A French Art Nouveau French walnut server by Louis Majorelle in the "Cephataria" motif. The server has two drawers with gilt-bronze handles in a leaf motif, double door storage below and is elaborately carved throughout in a floral motif. Similar pieces are pictured in the 1906 Majorelle catalogue (see Salle à Manger "Céphataria").
A French Art Nouveau marquetry commode by Émile Gallé. With original key. The syncretic influence of Japanese art is keenly felt in Gallé''s commode. The beginning of Galle''s fascination with Japanese art can be traced back to his friendship with Hokkai Takashima (1850-1931), a fellow botanist and member of the École de Nancy. Their botanical dialogue was facilitated by the Shokobutsu mei-i, a book of Japanese names for botanical species. It is from Hokkai that Gallé gained a spiritual and symbolic understanding of nature. Along with other École de Nancy artists, Hokkai and Gallé exhibited together in the display window of René Wiener''s papeterie. The store served as the office of Wiener''s arts journal, the Nancy artiste, which regularly featured on its covers contemporary examples of Gansai (Japanese watercolor), Byobu (folding screens) from the Rinpa school, Sumi-e (ink painting), and Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). As a show of gratitude, Hokkai bequeathed a vast art book collection to Wiener. It is from this record that we know with certainty of which Japanese artists Gallé had knowledge. One of the books in Hokkai''s collection was Hokusai''s Les cent paysages du Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei.) This 1835 expansion of Hokusai''s 36 views of Mount Fuji contained more elaborate iterations of his original compositions. The commode features two drawers and four cabriole legs.
The front of the drawers features a marquetry panel with mountains, unkai (sea of clouds) and usugumo (wisps of clouds) motifs. It is likely from works like Hokusai''s Yama mata yama (Mountains Upon Mountains) that Gallé assimilated the unkai (??) motif. The Yama mata yama is the album''s only zenithal view, allowing this phenomenon which is normally only visible from high elevations. On the top of the commode, a sunset mirage overlooks the entire scene. Meanwhile in the foreground, Gallé has included a usugumo motif rendered in warm brown wood. The wisps of cloud motif originates in a stanza in the Tale of Genji in his mourning for Fujitsubo. Those thin wisps of cloud trailing there over Mountains caught in sunset light Seem to wish to match their hue To the sleeves of the bereaved. There is a distinct temporal quality in the commode''s composition. The left side panel depicts a diurne while the right side panel depicts a nocturne. The juxtaposition of day and night in Japanese ukiyo-e was a subject much beloved by Hokusai and Hiroshige and was termed chuya (chu meaning day and ya meaning night). The Japanese nocturne was clearly a subject of great fascination to Gallé as well as evidenced by his "Nuit Japonais" vase. A similar commode is pictured in: "Gallé Furniture", by Alastair Duncan and Georges de Bartha, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors'' Club, 2012, p. 329, plate 15.
A French Art Nouveau "le cerisier" (cherry tree) vitrine by Emile Gallé featuring marquetry and carving throughout with original stylized fleur-de-lys brass shelf rests and a key with floral decoration. The mirrored vitrine backing enables one to view the backside of the collection housed within. This unusual piece was originally electrified when manufactured.The beginning of Gallé''s fascination with Japanese art can be traced back to his friendship with Hokkai Takashima (1850-1931), a Japanese nobleman, fellow botanist and member of the École de Nancy. Takashima introduced Gallé to a mesmerizing world of Japanese woodblock prints and textile designs, which he frequently incorporated into his work. Gallé''s early success at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle was with his "Japonisante" vitrine, a piece that featured "cherry blossom" openwork. In Gallé''s personal life, the cherry blossom held sentimental value, reminding him of his trips to Saillon, Switzerland. In his journal, Gallé mused "the cherries ripen in the snow falling from the dandelions." The gentle dark wood ripples in the marquetry evoke alpine mist and clouds taking the viewer to this enchanting scene. A similar vitrine is pictured in: "Gallé Furniture," by Alastair Duncan and Georges de Bartha, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors'' Club, 2012, p. 295, plate 17.
A French Art Nouveau walnut vitrine in ash and rosewood, featuring clemantis depicted in marquetry and deep carving. The vitrine has two lockable storage areas, each with a shelf, and two drawers that swing out from the body. There is also a shelf in the glass-fronted area near the top of the piece. The vitrine''s three legs are decorated with carved roots.
A French carved and fruitwood marquetry inlaid Ombelliféres vitrine by Emile Gallé. The vitrine has marquetry ombelle flowers in its interior and on the panel below the bottom shelf. The interior has two small carved half shelves. The top and bottom have elaborately carved ombelle decorations. It sits on four sinuously carved feet. The vitrine''s front marquetry panel features three Berce des prés composed in a similar manner to Kitao Shigemasa''s Tree peony and Finch. Through Takashima Hokkai, Gallé was able to borrow a copy of Fleurs, oiseaux par Shigemasa (Kachoe shashin zue). Like Shigemasa, Gallé worked in the aesthetic of kacho-e (birds and flower painting) with a thorough understanding of the grammar of ikebana (flower arrangement). Gallé''s expertise was so great that he was entrusted with organizing an ikebana retrospective for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Ikebana is composed of three elements: shin (heaven, sun, male), soe (earth, female), and hikae/tai (humanity, child.) Gallé has arranged his flowers according to the Moribana school, a style of ikebana that came at the apex of the Meiji restoration. Shigemasa had his peonies according to Moribana principles: the right most "soe" flower leans at 45°, the middle "shin" flower at 10° and the leftmost "hikae" flower at 75°. Pivotal to ikebana is the principles of harmony and balance. It is the function of the 4
5° soe flower through angle to balance out the 75° hikae flower. While Gallé did not follow the rigid rules of Moribana, this should not be seen as an indication of inferiority. Rather, Gallé has merely solved the problem of balance in a different manner. While Shigemasa created a sense of balance through angle, Gallé made rendered the leftmost flower in madagascar ebony . The dark value serves as a visual weight, balancing an arrangement that otherwise approaches imbalance. Next to the Berce des prés is an Écaille martre (Tiger moth). Native to the same prairies as the Berce des prés, the inclusion of the Écaille martre gives the vitrine the crepuscular setting that Gallé loved so much. Literature: Alastair Duncan and Georges de Bartha, "Gallé Furniture," Woodbridge, Antique Collector''s Club, 2012, p. 307, pl.42, for a similar example.
A French Art Nouveau "Chardons des Sables" chest of drawers by Émile Gallé. The "Chardons des Sables" (sand thistle) commode is a moving meditation on mortality. Gallé created this piece in 1903, after he was diagnosed with leukemia. He died the following year. Gallé has rendered a vista redolent of a longing for return. The commode''s central "sand thistle" motif alludes to a passage in Victor Hugo''s poem Les contemplations, Paroles sur la dune (1854): Maintenant que mon temps décroît comme un flambeau Que mes tâches sont terminées; Maintenant que voici que je touche au tombeau Par les deuils et par les années, (...) Je regarde, au dessus du mont et du vallon, Et des mers sans fin remuées, S''envoler sous le bec du vautor aquilon, Toute la toisuon des nuées (...) Et je pense, écoutant gémir le vent amer, Et l''onde aux plis infranchissables; L''été rit, et l''on voit sur le bord de la mer Fleurir le chardon bleu des sables. Now that, like candlelight, my lifetime wanes And my tasks are complete; Now that I, passing years and faced with pains, Find the grave at my feet, (...) I watch, high over mountaintop and vale And ever-surging sea, Before the beak of that vulture the gale, The woolen clouds all flee. (...) So I reflect, hearing the wind''s harsh roar, And the wave''s boundless pow
er Though summer smiles, and on the sandy shore, See the blue sand thistle flower. Like Victor Hugo in Les contemplations, Paroles sur la dune, the sand thistle figured on the marquetry frontispiece is towards the end of its bloom season. Most of the flower heads have turned dark brown and three have detached from their rosettes only to blow away in the ocean gale. To understand the extent of Gallé''s thematic dedication, one need only look at a blackened sand thistle leaf located in the center back of the commode top. The leaf is of the same value as the aqueous background, rendering it nearly imperceptible. Though seemingly a superfluous detail, the leaf''s inclusion completes the piece''s narrative: the plant, like the artist, fades into oblivion. Gallé''s pairing of image and poem is steeped in Japanese tradition. Gallé believed that Japanese artists painted with a "spirituel pinceau" (spiritual brush) and that marine plants were "bulleuse calligraphie" (blistered calligraphy). Unlike his previous Hugo-inspired furniture, Gallé has opted not to include the refrains of the poem that inspired this piece in the marquetry. Instead the work itself has become the poem. Gallé had previously synthesized land and sea in his 1889 Flora Marina, Flora exotica jardiniere. While his prior explorations of the theme relied heavily on allegory and ornate high relief carving, the "Chardons des Sables" commode is a prime example of Gallé''s aesthetic maturation into a thoroughly modern artist. Gone are the ink and shellac outlines and the sand-shaded wood. Rather, Gallé has taken advantage of the striations, figuring and coloration of the natural veneer. The "Chardon des sables" commode stands on four short legs with five long drawers in a carcass of walnut. The first and fifth drawer feature umbelliferae friezes. The second to fourth drawer fronts are veneered with marquetry panels showing "Chardon des sables" in front of the sea. The sky background of the second and third drawer utilizes Burmese rosewood. While rays are a cell type present in all hardwoods, woods in which the rays appear as parallel minute dark stripes of wood are rare. This feature, termed "storied rays," are only found in choice species of tropical hardwoods. For the background of the commode''s frontispiece, the ray patterning serves as a secondary pattern to the dominant dark veining. In this way, although the sky and sea are represented by different wood species, the storied rays imbue the piece with a visual harmony. The Burmese rosewood used in the sky was selected so that the height between each striation decreased as it approached the horizon thereby creating a depth of field. The striation terminates two-thirds of the way down the third drawer. The uniformity from this point until the horizon line mimics the way in which clouds merge into a continuous layer in the deep background. The Le Champ du Sang commode, a piece created three years prior to this one, for the Exposition Universelle de 1900, was designed in a similar compositional formula: foreground flowers and low horizon line. The horizon line was articulated as a hard edge with two contrasting pieces of wood spliced together. The stillness of the scene is palpably felt. As opposed to Le Champ du Sang, the Chardons des Sables commode features a remarkably seamless transition between the sky and the undulating ripples of the sea. Recent close examination has confirmed that the pattern was formed by cutting a single piece of veneer using two different methods. This is evidenced by the wood''s ray arrangement. The first quarter of the drawer is uniformly colored with horizontally storied rays. In the undulating dark brown pattern of the bottom three-quarters of the drawer, the ray arrangement becomes varied (horizontally, obliquely and vertically.) Horizontal storied rays only become visible in crown cut veneer where the wood is cut tangentially to the growth ring. Meanwhile, the varied "storied ray" arrangement only becomes visible when the wood is rotary cut, wherein, the log is centered on a lathe and turned against a broad cutting knife set into the log at a slight angle. To create the veneer''s pattern, the wood must have first been rotary cut. The log had to be subsequently removed from the lathe, and a steam-powered band saw had to rip the wood precisely a few millimeters to the left and right of the rotary cut''s terminus. The method used in the fourth drawer was an extremely time-consuming and precise method of cutting-- all done for the sake of capturing the artist''s compelling personal vision. The characteristic dark-veined swirled grain rotary cut pattern combined with the pommele markings present throughout distinguish the wood as Bubinga, a wood sourced from Equatorial Africa. The density of the pommele-figured Bubinga causes a chatoyant (changeable luster) effect. The resultant sheen simulates the way that light dapples across the water, ideal for Gallé''s representation of the ocean. The work stands out not only in its exceptional artistic technique but also marks the culmination of a scientific career. A lifetime as a botanist had given Gallé a penchant for morphological accuracy. Gallé had previously depicted other species of brittle stars, namely the Striped Ophiolepis superba. While Ophiolepis superba features short to non-existent arm spines, Gallé has chosen to depict the long arm spined Ophiothrix fragilis (hairy brittle star). Using an astounding economy of means, Gallé articulated these spines using the natural wood texture of the Cocos nucifera (Red Coconut Palm.) The contrasting red-brown, black and light gray-brown fibrovascular bundles of the Coconut Palm respectively articulate the negative space between the spines, the shadows of each spine, and the delicate mucosal spines themselves. In another instance of material specificity, the bumpy conceptacles (reproductive cavities) on a bladderwrack are rendered by Gallé using birdseye-figured Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple.) Gallé collected and preserved a variety of seaweed and shell specimens while in the Keller villa. Charles Keller (alias Jacques Turbin) was an anarchist, activist, poet and archaeologist. Keller had built a seafront villa in Carnac, Brittany after the excavation in 1862 of the Saint-Michel Tumulus, a megalithic grave mound. He regularly invited Gallé to this seaside retreat, and even when Gallé returned to Nancy, Keller was sure to send new species to add to Gallé''s burgeoning herbarium. Gallé''s choice of motifs on the commode''s top go far beyond scientific interest in morphological accuracy. Integral to Gallé''s macchia is the dissimilarity of the stiff and flexible, the brittle and fluid. Unlike the closely-related sea star, brittle stars have sinuous flexing arms, giving their legs an efflorescent appearance. This quality makes the brittle star an ideal object of representation. Conversely, the thick stem of the star thistle reads to the viewer as kelp in this underwater milieu. At the point in which the marine becomes flora and flora becomes marine, the conceptual unity of the piece reaches its culmination. Hugo, Victor, E. H. Blackmore, and A. M. Blackmore. 2004. Selected poems of Victor Hugo: a bilingual edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gallé, Emile. 1908. Écrits pour l''art: floriculture, art décoratif, notices d''exposition, 1884-1889. Paris: Renouard. https://archive.org/details/critspourlartflo00gall. Pictured in: "The Paris Salons 1895-1914 Volume III: Furniture," by Alastair Duncan, Antique Collectors Club, 1996, page 235.
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