supports—they can scarcely be called legs—of the two first named certainly bring to mind the tree trunk, but it is the tree trunk adapted to a specific purpose, and not as found in its natural state in the woodland or forest glade. In connection with these plates I must explain that it is quite impossible to convey a completely correct impression of any of the pieces by means of mere black-and-white sketches ; the originals must be seen in all the richness of the choicest mahogany, relieved by leaves, blossoms, and tendrils, exquisitely modelled and chased in fine brass, which is finished dull, and polished only here and there so as to give the necessary “ high lights." Their effect may then be properly appreciated. I do not consider that they are altogether graceful ; but the conception and execution of every one are characterised by a spontaneity and vigour which convey, with irresistible force, the impression that the artists and craftsmen responsible for them took a veritable delight in their execution. Every part is instinct with “life," the presence of which goes far to reconcile us to the licence in which the designers have indulged. Moreover, so far as construction is concerned, no one could reasonably raise any objection to them on the score of stability or soundness. Exception may, however, be taken to the enrichment of the back of the upper recess in the wardrobe (Fig. 4) by the introduction of most elaborate and costly inlay, which should never have been there, as it cannot be seen to advantage in such a situation, particularly if the recess be used for the storage of anything bulky.
The bedstead depicted in Fig. 1 is far more graceful in form than its companions on the same plate ; and it gives us, at the same time, a demonstration of the French marquetry-cutter’s skill, which, with its pleasing design, based on a rare orchid, and all its wealth of choice and subtle colouring, is fascinating in the extreme. The design of the inlay, moreover, has clearly been specially planned to “ fill "
to the fullest advantage the spaces which it was destined to occupy. I make a point of this, for such is not by any means always the case with “New Art” inlay, whose design very often bears no relation whatsoever to its surroundings. Further examples are presented on Plate II., the arm-chair
and small circular table on which (Figs. 5 and 7) again convey the idea of growth. All the studies I have referred to are from designs by the brothers Majorelle, who, 1 need hardly say, were among the pioneers, and rank with the leaders, of the “ New Art ” movement in France.
In the small chair, Fig. i, Plate II., there is strong indication that the designer from whose pencil it comes is either unable, or has not the inclination, to forsake the “ Louis – Quinze ” altogether, so he has introduced a familiar form ; but, instead of falling back upon the usual hackneyed scrolls and coquillage for his enrichment, he has dressed up the “ Louis-Quinze ” frame with “New Art ” tendrils and leaves, and with no small success. While writing of this chair, I may mention that the furniture manufacturers of this new school are not content to cut-into “lengths” of ordinary woven or printed patterns in order to provide their seat and chair coverings,
Reference in Text. See pages 310, 311
THE “NEW ART” IN FRANCE
but they make a great point of having special designs prepared for them, to accord exactly with those of the article upon which they are to find a place, and to fit perfectly the shapes of the portions to be covered. That is altogether as it should be, and I wish that the same plan were more generally adopted. The consequent outlay is not very great, while the effect of chairs and similar articles so treated is vastly enhanced.
Quasi – naturalesque enrichment predominates again in Figs. 2 and 4, Plate II., though the forms of the two pieces are comparatively commonplace ; and we have it yet once more, but displaying greater taste in conception and skill in arrangement, in the remaining illustration on the same plate— an exceptional and altogether admirable piece of work. As an
illustration of the lengths to which the “ New Art ” designers and craftsmen are prepared to go in the direction of overcoming technical difficulties in order to attain the object upon which they have set their mind, the unquestionably original mantel, by M. Charles Plumet, shown on Plate III., is remarkably striking. The underlying idea is, obviously,
that the lines of the rich red mahogany woodwork should convey the impression of tongues of flame curling up to, and licking, the ceiling. This fancy may not, perhaps, be regarded by many as a very comfortable one, as it irresistibly brings to mind the question of fire insurance premiums ; but it is, nevertheless, quite characteristic of the “ New Art,” and I must admit that, in my opinion, this mantel is endowed with a peculiar and most decided charm.
A number of examples are given on Plate IV. to assist in rendering more clear my remarks regarding the character of the inlay which is so freely employed by the chair makers and cabinet makers of this particular school. It will be apparent that, in most instances, no effort was put forth to render this inlay decorative—employing the word in its strictest sense—or to so arrange the detail that it should have the appearance of having been specially designed to fit the spaces apportioned to it. The panels as they stand are simply naturalesque studies—pictures in wood, to all intents and purposes, which would look equally well, if not better, framed-up independently and hung on a wall.
By way of contrast to the foregoing I have introduced, on Plate V., a scheme of interior woodwork by the Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs, of Paris, in which naturalesque detail is very extensively employed, but is subordinated throughout to structural conditions, and characterised by a sense of fitness which makes it not a little pleasing, at least that is my view.
By an examination of Plate VI. a fairly adequate conception may be gained of the general impression conveyed by a dining-room fitted and furnished in accordance with one of the predominant phases of the French “ New Art,” though the rare charm of the colouring of the original cannot be given here. Let the reader imagine the warm tones of mahogany illumined by the rays of the sun gleaming through stained glass graduated from pale yellow,
NEW ART” (GERMAN). VIII.
through orange and deep saffron, to almost a blood red ; then the illustration will possess fuller meaning.
The next study, illustrated on this page, having nothing at all to do with furniture, ought not really to be here ; but I could not resist the temptation to introduce it, as it furnishes yet another striking proof of the rare ingenuity
Decorative Peacock Scheme, executed in Iron Piping
with which these Frenchmen will press all manner of seemingly unlikely materials into their service in order to secure the effects they desire. The sketch represents one end of a galvanised iron building erected in the grounds of the last Paris Exhibition, and the design, which is certainly not unpleasing, is, I need not point out, based on the
peacock—a motif favoured by decorative artists of all ages. So far so good. But in what material was this design rendered? In nothing more nor less than iron gas pipes!
As I have already indicated, the “New-Art” designer cannot always entirely forget his old loves, and in the settee which appears on the next page we have another “ Louis – Quinze ” frame in a naturalesque, or “New-Art,” dress. This piece, in most of its detail, recalls strongly much of the so-called “ rustic ” furniture usually relegated to lawns, “ back gardens,” and summer houses. Designed, as it is here, for the adornment of the salon or drawing-room, it appears resplendent in all the iridescent glories of yellow, green and blue bronzes, the effect of which is, to say the least, certainly unique. The next illustration, which appears on p. 310, represents a seat which, on the authority of one of the leading houses in Paris, is in “ L’Art Nouveau”; but let it speak for itself.
Of less unusual modern productions which the French include under the heading “ L’Art Nouveau,” I might illustrate many, but they would be simply adaptations, if not actual copies, of English “ Quaint ” designs such as I have dealt with in another chapter ; for the French, in their anxiety to get away from their own time-honoured modes, have cast more than a passing glance at the work of the British designer, and have not hesitated to take many a leaf out of his book. We surely can offer no objection to their doing so, when we call to mind what we owe to them for inspiration afforded in the past.
There remains one more feature of this “ New Art” upon which I must touch before leaving the subject ; the innovations brought about in the matter of colouring. In this as in other directions long-accepted notions have been utterly upset, and colours which it was once generally supposed could never possibly be made to harmonise are now brought into juxtaposition with a result altogether charming.
“NEW ART” (AUSTRIAN). IX.
THE “NEW ART” IN FRANCE
Yellows, greens, pinks, mauves, magentas, and other colours quite impossible to describe, but the very mention of which
in combination almost takes the breath away, are employed together in such subtle gradations and shades, and in so skilful
a manner, that we involuntarily exclaim : “ Why were these delightful schemes never thought of before? ”—for delightful many of them are without a doubt.
It is not possible for me to deal at any length with the development of the movement in continental countries other than France, but it will not do, nevertheless, to ignore altogether what is taking place in Germany and Austria in this
A “New Art” Atrocity (French) (See page 308 for reference)
connection. On Plates VII. to X., therefore, appear schemes, hailing from both countries, which may be regarded as fairly characteristic. In Germany, quite a number of the leaders of the new school—the “ Modcrne Stil” as it is called—are cultivating a “ stringy,” interlaced, entangled class of “ ornament,” such as that indicated on Plate VII., and by the sketch on next page ; but a greater degree of refinement and
“NEW ART” (AUSTRIAN). X.
THE “NEW ART” IN FRANCE
restraint is displayed in schemes of the character that pervades Plate VIII. As for the two Austrian studies, that on Plate IX. has rather the attenuated “ stringy ” failing again ; but the corner on Plate X. is as simple and unpretentious as
(See page 310 for reference)
one could well desire, and, save for one or two scraps of “ New Art ” enrichment here and there, might be a rendering of our own ‘ Quaint.”
But I must not be tempted to discuss the “New Art”
further, save to recognise again the greatness of the work which the apostles of the cult have accomplished. Notwithstanding the many extravagances and absurdities with which they are to be credited, they have induced decorative artists the world over to think more for themselves, and rely less on their knowledge of traditional “ styles.” In fact they have persuaded them to use their own brains instead of perpetually copying, adapting, and re-rendering the results of the brain-work of others. The total gain of all this, in the long run, must be altogether incalculable ; so cannot we afford to forget the follies, great as they are, by which its inception has been attended ?