Maison Belle Epoque, Épernay

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Where Champagne meets Art Nouveau

What started with a ‘find’ in the South of France led Ger Stallenberg and Suus van der Hilst to one of the most acclaimed Champagne-houses, in Épernay, France. The couple, specialising in art from the period 1890-1940, had discovered an extraordinary Art Nouveau sculpture by E. Quinter on one of their trips. And whilst investigating the history of the sculpture, they unraveled the corporate identity as well as the interior design of the House of Perrier-Jouët.

This is a guest blog by Ger Stallenberg, published earier in Dutch in Vind.

Sculpture Femme Fleur by E Quinter in gres with bottle of Perrier-Jouët Champagne

The young Femme Fleur loosly holds a bottle of Champagne in her hands. Her fresh innocence and the large flowers in her hair refer to the pleasantness of a refreshing glass of ‘bubbles’. The Femme Fleur, or Flower Girl, is one of the most popular themes in Art Nouveau of which dozens of variations are known in sculpture as well as in painting. Often, these are personifications of specific flowers, where the colour and shape of the clothes and hairstyle portray the character of that specific flower.

Quinters sculpture was created at an atelier known as Société Céramique de Charenton, located in French Charenton-le-Pont, near Paris. This atelier was a gathering of workshops with facilities for different crafts people. The sculpture is a one-off life size work in gres, decorated with both glossy and matt, as well as transparent glazing.

The riches in shape and the flowing lines of the dress and hairstyle contrast wonderfully with the fresh posture of the young beauty. A budding flower. The bottle of Champagne, from the House of Perrier-Jouët, was corked empty just for display. The flowers both in her hair and on the bottle are Japanese Anemones. They were enamelled on the bottle and wreathed in gold.

Legacy

Perrier-Jouet Emile Galle design champagne bottleChampagne and Art Nouveau go together very well. The advertising posters Alphonse Mucha designed for Champagne houses are well known. Lesser known is the corporate identity of Perrier-Jouët, with anemones on the bottle designed by Émile Gallé in 1902. Gallé was the founder of the École de Nancy, one of the Art Nouveau movements in France.

Perrier-Jouët, one of the oldest and most famous Champagne Houses, can be found – just like Moët-Chandon – at the center of the Champagne region, along the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay. Octave Gallice, grandson of founders Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, has left a magnificent Art Nouveau legacy. Thanks mainly to his personal relationships with artists from the École de Nancy and the École de Paris. Maison Belle Epoque, the former dwelling of the Perrier-Jouët family in Épernay, houses the largest private collection of Art Nouveau furniture in France, and one of the largest in the world.

Entrance Hall of Maison Belle Epoque, Épernay

Interior

In recent years, the house has been redecorated with restored pieces; not as a museum, but rather as a private hotel for important customers of Perrier-Jouët. The entrance hall at ground level is equiped with a wallnut and glass wall by French architect Hector Guimard that leaves the petit salon in plain sight. Remarkable is the classic shape of the framework, where subtle sculpted details show the hand of the master.

Cast Iron Chimney Insert at Maison Belle Epoque, Épernay

Guimard adapted his design so that it would perfectly fit with the architecture of the existing house from the early 1800s. Same applies for the chimneys in the salon where cast iron panels adorn the existing fireplaces. Also by Guimard are the cast iron ‘jardinières’ in the Hall. Together with the wallnut and glass arch, the view of the salon with furniture by Émile Gallé and Louis Majorelle and the stained glass windows cause  a strong sense of Art Nouveau as soon as one enters the mansion.

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Applied Art added Quality to Everyday Life

The guests that are invited to the house sit on chairs by Gallé or Belgian architect Victor Horta and sleep in the beds by Majorelle or Guimard. Though some guests have their own ideas about that… One very important Japanese customer was once asked if he had slept well in the Hector Guimard bedroom. It turned out he had had an excellent night, even though he had chosen to sleep on the floor. Sleeping in a bed by Guimard was blasphemous, in his opinion.

Hector Guimard Bedroom at Maison Belle EpoqueHector Guimard Bedroom at Maison Belle Epoque

Hector Guimard Bedroom at Maison Belle Epoque

Interesting thing about Guimard’s designs for Maison Belle Epoque is that they are very humble. He showed that his personal style was perfectly adaptable to existing architecture that was not nescesarily Art Nouveau architecture. Guimard’s expressive style is limited to refined details and the lines in bas-reliëf of the basic architecture. It is nice to see that an artist with such a distinct personal style adapts to existing shapes. We encounter a Guimard here, who shows that his designs don’t need to renounce existing architecture but could also enhance it.

Vase by Sevres, wooden mounting by Francois Rupert Carabin, 1914

Vase by Sevres, wooden mounting by Francois Rupert Carabin, 1914

Applied Art

Perrier-Jouët’s philosophy to introduce nature as a source for inspiration and beauty into everyday life perfectly matches the Art Nouveau philosophy. The Japanese Anemone that Gallé used to embellish the bottle refers to the floral character of the wine. Art Nouveau artists aimed to create unity between humans and their surroundings by applying organic design based on nature. They were convinced that beauty is not just a decorative value, but rather a much needed necessity in daily life. Their ideal was that furniture, utensils, clothing and architecture could lift the soul and elevate the spiritual quality of everyday life. Like music can do during a concert, applied Art Nouveau art would do the same by being present at all times.

Detail of a cabinet at Maison Belle Epoque, Épernay

Cabinet by Jaques Gruber with etched Glass Landscape

The First World War ended these Art Nouveau ideals abruptly, but not at Perrier-Jouët. The Japanese Anemones are still enamelled 3,2 million times annually on a bottle, to promote the beauty of nature. At the moment we believe the extraordinary sculpture by Quinter was created for a special exhibition to promote Perrier-Jouët Champagne. When and where is still unclear. So we continue our search and who knows what else we’ll discover on this journey.

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Leather Wall Panels by A. Lorier

Ger Stallenberg | Galerie Het Ware Huis | Lage Mierde NL
www.hetwarehuis.nl

Epilogue: The sculpture was clearly created to present a bottle. And what would fit better than the bottle of Perrier-Jouët Champagne that Gallé designed in 1902 in Art Nouveau style. For the time being though, it remains uncertain if the sculpture was indeed created for Perrier-Jouët as the bottle currently in the hands of the Femme Fleur is a ‘Belle Epoque Vintage’ that was introduced in 1964. So when Ger and Suus bought the Flower Girl, it did put  them on the trail of the Perrier-Jouët collection, and it did lead to a wonderful story, but more investigation is needed to discover the genuine history of the sculpture.

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Louis Majorelle bedroom at Maison Belle Epoque

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Dining Room with furniture by Louis Majorelle

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Furniture by Louis Majorelle

Maison Belle Epoque, Épernay

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Cast Iron Panel Fireplace by Hector Guimard

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© All photos courtesy of Ger Stallenberg & Suus van der Hilst 

Continue Reading:
Champagne and art: Inside the Perrier-Jouët Maison Belle Epoque
Flora’s Feast
French Art Nouveau Ceramics: An Illustrated Dictionary by Paul Arthur
The Maison Belle Epoque, an Experience
The Telegraph: Vintage art nouveau: Perrier-Jouët reopens Maison Belle Epoque
Wikipage Floriography, the Language of Flowers
Wikipage of Perrier-Jouët (English)
Wikipage of Perrier-Jouët (French)

 

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