If the two entrances to the Clockwork and Bronze sections give a certain amount of chill on the right side of the thirty-metre gallery, this bad impression is immediately erased in front of the superb door of class 48.
The upholsterers and decorators have done things splendidly, and they have certainly proved the proverbial shoemakers wrong. Their three-bay facade, one of which is round-headed, the middle one, and the other two, with straight lintels, is composed of marble panels of various colours, with gold highlights.
Above each of the end bays, a composition by the young master Charles Toché, the decorator of Chenonceaux, fills the part that has been gained by the lowering of the lintel.
One of these paintings represents - says the legend inscribed in a corner of the work - the decorative painters, the upholsterers and the ornamental sculptors. This one is rather cold. But its neighbour is pleasantly fanciful. In the middle of the panel, an old woman drapes a thick brocade over the shoulders of a young person, who is in great need of this garment, for she is clad only in a pearl held to her neck by a chain. The sight of the young person, in such a gallant state of undress, does not move her neighbour on the right, an enameller, also naked - this is obviously in the South - who is putting the finishing touches to the decoration of a vase.
The tones are curiously exaggerated. While the young woman is a milky pink, her enameller neighbour is brick red.
The moral is safeguarded by the presence of the old seamstress, - whose role in the decorative tapestry I do not quite see, - and who has, under her glasses and white cap, an honest air which rules out all malicious suppositions. This is so true that the fourth character in the panel, a neighbour who is colouring a statue of the Virgin, does not even think of turning his head and remains absorbed in his chromosculpture.
All of this is violently executed, with oppositions that are sometimes too deliberate, but Charles Toché must nevertheless be recognised as having a real talent for interior decoration. And the upholsterers have shown great intelligence in associating their work with that of this artist who is their best collaborator.
It goes without saying that hangings occupy a large place in this façade, there are hangings of all styles and for all tastes. But the one in the middle, a huge Venetian door in red velvet with gold tassels, is particularly remarkable.
Golden Book of the Exhibition - Alfred Grandin.
When the building industry is going - everything is going -, it is usually said, and this is true because of the multiplicity of industries that derive from the building industry and live from it. At the forefront of these industries is that of the decorative upholsterer, which is indeed an art and not one of the least refined.
And it must be said that for the moment the building industry is doing admirably, because the art of upholsterers and decorators is in a superb period of bloom. This period has lasted for twenty-five years. In all peoples and in all ages, the development of the art of the upholsterer has been the criterion of the wealth of the age and its taste for luxury and comfort. The great Asiatic civilisations were able to erect the most superb monuments, cyclopean palaces and temples, where thousands of gods fraternised at Taise; but the bare walls of these marvellous edifices indicate very clearly that nothing was born of what constitutes with us the sense of comfort and domestic life. Imperial Rome itself did not suspect this very modern luxury, nor did the artists of the Middle Ages. The artists of the Renaissance began to lay the foundations of the decorative art, which today has become so widespread that it costs almost less to build a stylish house than to furnish it, not including the furniture.
For we do not have to deal here with furniture, whose most remarkable productions we have shown elsewhere. Certainly the furniture remains, even in this class 21, the principal object since it includes "objects of bedding, upholstered seats, etc.," but it is with the accessories that we will have to deal with the bed; we will see only the canopy, and the seat only the trim.
The gallery is occupied entirely by a series of arches, which imitate the stone detailing and which give the place a more than severe appearance. It is naked, like Hassan on his sopha. But this austerity is only a very well-intentioned skill. It leaves all their value to the ornamental motifs, to the decorations which form the exhibition itself.
Within this rigid framework, the upholsterers have installed marvels of drapery and decoration, some in a marked style, others, and this is the great majority, without any style, or rather bringing them all together in that amiable disorder which is the great chic of modern furnishing.
As soon as we enter, to the right of the monumental door, we find a bedroom - "Interpreted Delaplanche period," says the exhibitor. The interpretation is very pretty; the bed is placed on a sort of platform in a cutaway, a balustrade separates it from the room, everything is white, soft blue, soft pink, gold or silver. Above the baldachin, a marabou crown and large white feathers seem to indicate that this room is intended for the Princess of Wales or someone in her family.
In this one room alone we find, more or less, a sample of all the productions of the art of the upholsterer and decorator, and God knows how varied they are!
We have almost every decorative motif, either in the hanging or in the furnishings. Varnish, stone cardboard, plaster and papier-mâché patterns, so used for light ornaments. This last branch of the decorator's industry has developed considerably in recent years. And there is not a living room today that does not have a rose window in the most rococo Louis XV style. And when this is carefully applied to a suitable background, it is difficult to tell whether one is in the presence of a sculpture or a simple staff moulding.
The big novelty shops, which sell furniture as they sell horses, carriages, negroes and railway tracks, have each installed a bedroom. It is not very artistic, but it is so copiously crowded that a column would be needed to describe each of these furnishings.
It will suffice to point out a very fine needlepoint reproduction of Alexander's Battles, by Lebrun, which can rival the finest classical tapestries.
Another mode of reproduction of tapestries, which form very beautiful panels, is the wooden mosaic. Here it is not a question of stone cubes set in a clear cement, but of small square wooden sticks which, suitably assembled, can reproduce any point. The palette of this mosaic is, so to speak, infinite; at the present time, there are more than 12,000 different shades. It is understandable that it is still, more than stone mosaic, a work of patience. In the large point, 40,000 logs are needed to cover one square metre of composition. In the small point, 160,000 sticks are needed. This process has been used to reproduce hangings and paintings by masters. It is at the same time very artistic, very exact and very solid; when the panel begins to lose its freshness, it is enough to scrape it slightly, to revive the nuances by removing light chips, the log being dyed in all its length, the drawing and the colours are not altered.
Upholsterers are the ones who make transformations of furniture that can turn a couch into a bed, a surgical table or a chaise longue. This type of transformation is very fashionable. Doctors, for their part, have for some time now given up those horrible moleskin-covered armchairs that used to look like instruments of torture in their surgeries; it is an elegant sofa that, with a simple push, will be transformed into an operating bed. You suffer just as much during, but you don't suffer before; and that's just as much gained.
These pieces of furniture have the massive and soft forms that were once their prerogative, but all living-room furniture today has come to these softnesses and roundnesses. As little wood as possible is shown, and all angles are rounded. It is the oriental divan that triumphs.
Religious furniture has as much to do with the art of the cabinetmaker as with that of the upholsterer, and it would even be difficult to say under which signs we find choir stalls here. Perhaps it is because they have not been placed anywhere else, and it would really have been a pity not to show them to us, for they are superb.
Religious statues belong to the art of the ornamentalist and the decorator, or rather they do not belong to any art. For there is a deplorable decadence in this industry. Figures without character, shapeless garments, emblems which by routine have lost all their primitive symbolism, that is what remains of this magnificent Christian art which was one of the most glorious parts of French art. It is still, as the great Catholic polemicist Léon Bloy eloquently wrote, the unpacking of the Rue Saint-Sulpice, "the Saint Joseph uniformly dressed in a blue tartan striped with slug burrs, offering a potato flower to a cerulean Infant Jesus". No inspiration, no breath, no faith. The whole line of saints, whose hieratic attitudes are nothing more than banal; And one is deeply saddened, whether one is a believer or simply an artist, when one compares these unbearable theories of mannered saints, covered in the same whitewash, of puffed-up and pink saints, dressed in the same azure, to the radiant processions that pass through the stained-glass windows of the Middle Ages, to the celestial courts that the Primitives knelt at the feet of the Virgins and of the Emmanuel Child. Lady, we understand a little of this decadence. Commerce is where faith was, and one cannot ask a good merchant in the Rue du Vieux-Colombier for the artistic impulses of Fra Angelico of Fiesole.
However, we must do justice to a remarkable piece, a Saint Martin sharing his cloak, carved in solid wood, by some unskilled workman perhaps, but who must have revived the time of the legend. It is naive and sometimes carved with an axe, but it is there, whereas the gilded wood St. Vincent de Paul and the gingerbread St. Francis of Assisi are absolutely non-existent.
Marbles are found in both religious and domestic decoration. It must be admitted that they are much more stylish in the latter. Amongst others, we find some superb fireplaces. One Louis XVI in blue marble is worthy of all praise. Another of great style, in Pyrenean marble, would not be out of place in any palace.
This is art, at its most decorative, without the needs of decoration having cut the wings of artistic inspiration.
And this is the great pitfall that, with the benefit of the few criticisms we have just made, our decorators know very well how to avoid.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.