Alexandre Charpentier (1856-1909). Naturalism and Art Nouveau

ARCHIVE
2008

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"The work of art in the age of technical reproducibility."


Jug
Alexandre CharpentierJug© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
In general, Charpentier was not known for producing unique decorative works. When he did, it was because they were personal commissions or they were too costly to be duplicated. This was true for the majority of his pieces of furniture, like the Piano  ( 1898) and theArmoire à quatuor (1901), a glazed cabinet for storing stringed instruments. Sometimes he just did not want to repeat the effort, as in the case of Fountain and bowl (1894).
In the late 19th century, according to Walter Benjamin, the work of art had entered a period of "technical reproducibility". Charpentier naturally advocated the reproduction of his creations: not "an indefinite number of copies", but a "carefully limited quantity". He would then choose inexpensive materials and techniques to achieve a reasonable production cost and selling price.

 

The "sculptor's furniture"

Alexandre Charpentier
 (1856-1909)
 Dining room panelling
 Between 1900 and 1901
 Mahogany, oak, poplar, gilt bronze, glazed stoneware
 H. 346; W. 621 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Alexandre CharpentierDining room panelling© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Charpentier's furniture and interior decorations provoked mixed reactions, and were less highly regarded than those by other architects and designers of his time. What was it that people objected to? Essentially, to his diversity, an indication of "wild fantasy". But can Charpentier be criticised for wanting continually to push the boundaries and draw on a variety of sources?
The artist deserves praise for bringing his "fantasy" to very unusual commissions. In fact, several of his pieces of furniture were something of a challenge. The high, deep cupboards and shelves of the Armoire à quatuor ,provide storage space for scores and bows, which are not for display. The instruments, on the other hand, are displayed behind the glazed doors. This unique piece of furniture perfectly combines beauty and function.
For his Billiard Table,Charpentier decided against marquetry, commonly used at the time. He was looking for a decorative solution for catching the balls at the table corners. So he came up with the idea of collecting them in the folds of a dancer's skirt, as the bronze was strong enough to withstand the repeated drop of billiard balls.

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