Professor Georges Darzens, brother of Rodolphe Darzens, commissioned Carabin for this table, which was made in 1899. Presented at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1899, it was always kept in the family of the commissioner and was included in important exhibitions of Carabin's work: in 1934 at the Musée Galliera and in 1974 at the Galerie du Luxembourg.
Born in 1862 into a relatively modest family in Saverne, Alsace, François-Rupert Carabin suffered the consequences of the annexation of Alsace-Moselle by Germany and was quickly forced to help his parents provide for the family. It is in this context that he started as a cameo sculptor and modeler of death masks, while apprenticing with carpenters and woodcarvers in the Faubourg Saint Antoine. Carabin wanted to be a sculptor, a carpenter, and then a ceramist or a medallist.
This ability to practice several techniques testifies to his interest in the decorative arts. Carabin was one of those who succeeded in creating a “decorative arts” section at the Salon de la société nationale des Beaux-Arts, where his creations caused a scandal at the first edition in 1891. He also exhibited in Belgium and his reputation earned him requests from institutions in Vienna and Darmstadt, where, it is said, out of patriotism, he refused to go.
In 1920 he left the Paris scene to teach at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, until his death in 1932.
While Carabin is now recognized as an important artist on the Parisian scene around 1900, the Darzens brothers, and especially the scandal-prone Rodolphe, have since fallen into oblivion. Rodolphe Darzens (1865-1938) was a poet, playwright, literary critic, and sports journalist. He had a quick temper and took delight in fighting duels. He frequented the Parisian bohemia, the cabaret of the Chat Noirand the Café du Tambourin and was involved in the management of several theaters. As a journalist, he wrote for various magazines, founding some that only appeared for a few months.
It was probably Adolphe Willette (1857-1926) who introduced him to Carabin, with whom he became friends, the two friends sharing a taste for louche nightlife. This friendship took an intimate and familial turn when Rodolphe Darzens became the godfather of Carabin's daughter, Colette, in 1905. His brother George Darzens, a chemist, polytechnician and mechanical enthusiast, developed a prototype vehicle with his elder brother. He produced a dozen cars that his brother was responsible for selling.
Like his brother Rodolphe, he supported Carabin financially, particularly by commissioning his worktable. Designated “worktable for a chemist” during its exhibition at the Salon, it was indeed a personal piece of furniture, designed in reference to Georges Darzens’s work. If the table itself is highly representative of Carabin's work, the engraved copper top alludes to the scientific skills of the man who commissioned it. The overall shape of the table is very simple, and the structure of the furniture is immediately recognizable.
Only the asymmetry of the base enlivens this structure, as the legs on the left side are angled outward to support the carved part, which consists of a naked female figure holding an open drawing portfolio. This figure of a woman is characteristic of the women who populate the furniture designed by Carabin: the naked muscular body, the hairstyle in bands with the hair pulled up in a bun, the impassive oval face, with a pointed chin. In the composition that brings together a piece of furniture of simple lines with this astonishing figure of a woman with a drawing board, the table obviously brings to mind the bookcase for Henry Montandon, made ten years earlier (1889), and now held at the Musée d'Orsay.
The lower part of the bookcase already consisted of a drawing portfolio, the details of which the artist had, as here, taken great pleasure in transcribing. In the table, the portfolio, intended to hold the work in progress of the chemist, is soberly animated by a ribbon that goes down along its side. The female figure is, as always in Carabin's furniture, strangely situated. Seated on a crossbar and leaning against the table, her attitude is unnatural, and the artist does not seem to be trying to make it plausible.
The front of the drawer slopes downward and includes Carabin's only properly ornamental contribution: two wrought iron plates with plant motifs, which can be used as handles for gripping. The engraved copper plate that covers the top of the desk is not by Carabin, but by Bauduer, an engraver, who, according to the family tradition, would have executed the work under Darzens’ eyes, freehand. The plants were meant as allusions to his work, particularly on the synthesis of floral essences (rose and violet).
The table will soon be on display in our decorative arts rooms, after slight restoration.