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The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors Conference 2016

The Lighthouse Glasgow

The Lighthouse in Glasgow

This second day of our conference took place at The Lighthouse. The building, designed in 1895, used to be a warehouse at the back of the printing office of the Glasgow Herald. Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the tower – a prominent feature of the building – to contain an 8.000-gallon water tank. It was to protect the building and all its contents from the risk of fire. Mackintosh was a young draughtsman in the architectural practice of Honeyman and Keppie when he designed the Mitchell Street building. It was his first public commission.

The Lighthouse Glasgow Staircase

The Lighthouse in Glasgow, Staircase

In order to launch a shared reflection around the theme Art Nouveau Interiors, all associated members were invited to give a short presentation of the Art Nouveau interiors in their city. They were also invited to explain how they had prepared the restorations of those interiors and what problems they encountered during the process. The title of the day’s Réseau Art Nouveau Network (RANN) seminar was…

‘Art Nouveau interiors, a first overview’

The speakers could do their presentation either in English or in French as RANN arranged for two interpreters translating the presentations simultaneously. And since I don’t speak French this was excellent!

Without exception, all presentations were interesting. There are a lot of beautiful Art Nouveau interiors out there!

The seminar took no less than eight hours, so I’ll stick to the highlights.

Galerija Emporium Ljubljana

Galerija Emporium Ljubljana

Martina told us about several Art Nouveau interiors in Ljubljana and the interior that I remember best (because I’ve actually seen it last summer!) was that of department store Galerija Emporium (1903). I’ll write a post about this department store in due time.

Iveta took us inside the Art Nouveau Museum (1903) in Riga. Well, if you didn’t know it yet, you do now: Riga is Art Nouveau Nirvana! Move it to the top of your bucket list!

Ramona showed us the interior of Villa Darvas-La Roche (1910-1911), in Oradea. She filled us in on the discoveries they did, and the problems they are facing, with the restoration of the villa. The facade of the building, for example, is decorated with Zsolnay ceramics buttons. And some of those buttons are severely damaged or worse, they are completely missing. So the team responsible for restoring the villa is now facing the challenge of replacing the damaged / missing Zsolnay buttons.

Villa Darvas-Laroche - Zsolnay ceramic buttons

Villa Darvas-Laroche – Zsolnay ceramic buttons on the facade

However, as soon as this restoration project is finished, we will have another wonderful European Art Nouveau museum to visit!

Jérôme showed the well-known yet spectacular interiors of the Villa Majorelle, Musée de l’École de Nancy and Brasserie L’Excelsior. And Ingvil showed us the interior of Ålesund’s Art Nouveau Centre. It is located in the old Swan Pharmacy (1907) and has exceptional Japanese wallpaper! I’d love to know more about this Japanese wallpaper, but that will have to wait until some later date…

Swan Pharmacy Ålesund interior

Swan Pharmacy Ålesund interior

Helen introduced us to the local variation of Art Nouveau, the so-called Glasgow Style, by sharing pictures of interiors not by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Most impressive where the pictures of the De Quincey House (1888) and the Glasgow City Chambers (1888). Helen assured us that we would be able to see the City Chambers later that evening, so some of us went off to see the De Quincey house on our own, as soon as the seminar was over. The marvelous interior now houses a Tea Lounge, from 9am till 6pm, and then turns into a Cocktail Bar Gin71 for the rest of the night!

And while Françoise showed us some of the dazzling interiors in Brussels, Igor introduced Subotica and Zsombor told us about the interiors in Budapest, I was beginning to see some recurring elements in each and every story…

The restoration projects all started with a building that looked fár from perfect. Alterations over the years disrupted the original Art Nouveau design of the facades, and the Art Nouveau interiors were disintegrated as furniture was sold, thrown away or destroyed. Often false ceilings were mounted, floors were covered with ‘modern’ flooring and so on. All restored buildings discussed today were ‘modernised’ over the years, and in general that modernization process can be considered a catastrophe.

The good news is that most facades could be reconstructed with the help of the original architect’s blue prints and old photos. Often, these are stored in city archives and in the archives of some older construction companies. But restoring the original interiors…. that’s a different ball game!

Whereas a trip to the city archives often reveals enough information to restore the facade, there is no simple way to determine the original interior of an Art Nouveau building. The best source for information turned out to be: snap shots from the family who lived in the house right after it was built. Without exception, all speakers referred to family pictures as their nr. 1 source!

And sometimes there are original invoices from the period of construction; receipts for wallpapers, furniture and fabrics for instance. If you’re lucky, even traces of the original material (wallpaper, tiles or wall hanging) can be found behind window frames or slats. Another source can be found in paintings from the 1900’s as well as in postcards. Zsombor even suggested the possibility to research digitized period magazines (like Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration). While in Ljubljana they like to study the archives of their famous fin-de-siècle photographers. A tip from Philipp that I particularly liked: exhibition catalogues from manufacturers back in the days!

Later that night we were invited to a reception at the City Chambers, an impressive building in Glasgow Style. To be honest, to me the building did not at all look like an Art Nouveau building. But that is because I imagine Art Nouveau to be curvy and/or geometric, like in Guimard or Mackintosh Art Nouveau. Except for the beautiful Wylie & Lochhead wall hanging, the building looked very historicizing, or neo-something to me.

RANN members Glasgow City Chambers

RANN members at Glasgow City Chambers

In short, we got plenty of inspiration from today’s seminar. And lots of new travel ideas too! I am going to apply all suggestions to my own restoration project: Determine the original owners of my house, trace their descendants and ask for photos of the ancestors; dig in the city archives for old photos and rummage vintage shops for old postcards etc. What a wonderful exploration to look forward to!

Are you involved in a restoration project yourself? What’s your favourite source of information?

Read more
Art Nouveau European Route
Charles Rennie Mackintosh – wikipage
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society
Glasgow School of Art – photographic tour
Glasgow School of Art – wikipage
Hillhouse, Helensburgh
House for an Art Lover
The Conservation of Historic Interiors – Glasgow, Scotland and Europe
The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors Symposium 2016
The Lighthouse
Oradea in Coup de Fouet Magazine
Reseau Art Nouveau Network
Riga Art Nouveau Museum
Villa Darvas-La Roche
Willow Tea Rooms