The Castel Béranger’s ceramic decorations are usually renowned for being made of glazed stoneware and for having been produced by the Bigot company. But the discovery of new documents allows us to revise this opinion. We do not discuss here the stoneware mosaics that are mentioned in the article on the decoration of the vestibule. The latter, as well as the article on the panel with the cat arching its back, have been modified.
The Castel Béranger (1895-1898), an apartment building intended for the lower middle class, bore the hopes of a young architect anxious to make a name for himself through a media stunt and thus escape the fate promised to architects who had not graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts: a laborious and obscure life. Its composite and colourful facade bears the mark of the architect’s sudden conversion from a neo-Viollet-le-Duc style to Art Nouveau. It uses many materials: dressed stone, millstone, red brick, glazed brick, ironwork, ornamental cast iron, stained glass and architectural ceramics.
For the latter material, Guimard turned for the first time to two new companies, to the detriment of Muller & Cie who had previously supplied him with the glazed ceramic panels he used to decorate his buildings. Of these two companies, the oldest and largest in terms of production volume is Gilardoni fils, A. Brault et Cie . The most recent is A. Bigot et Cie, which has positioned itself exclusively on glazed stoneware. Bigot was then very attentive to new stylistic trends and Guimard seems to have wanted to experiment with this new material with him. The list of contributors he included on one of the first plates of the Castel Béranger portfolio mentions these two companies in the following terms:
We are certain of Bigot’s participation on two supplies that received his signature: the decoration of the vestibule (signed at the bottom of each panel) and the fireplaces in some dining rooms.
This series of articles devoted to the company of the ceramist Émile Muller in Ivry and its relationship with the Art nouveau movement concludes with a study centred on its production of modern style fireplaces. We thus offer ourselves an escape from Guimard’s creations since, to our knowledge, he did not ask Muller to create and even less to edit objects of the fixed decor. But we take the opportunity of this article to reveal the existence of fake fireplaces of a well-known model of Muller, one of which is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
The fireplace — the hearth — has always symbolized at the same time the place of domestic life and where the family unit gathers around when it brings a little comfort during the cold months of the year. In the 19th century, as the dining room became the core bourgeois reception room, the fireplace was an essential part of the decor, even if its functional role diminished as innovations progressed, such as the stove and then the salamander, which was adapted in front of its hearth, and especially central heating by radiators or hot air ducts. The fireplace was then reduced to a role of auxiliary or mid-season heating. However, neither the owners, nor the decorators, were ready to abdicate its presence in the house and its role in social representation.
Art nouveau style fireplaces
Art nouveau will be the style in which the formal aspect of the fireplace will literally explode. From 1895 to 1900, modern models were few, and above all not very visible because they were intended for private interiors, without mass production, with the exception of a few rare models presented in specialized magazines or official trade shows.
In the French sections of the 1900 Universal Exhibition, one can first come across fireplaces whose structure is still clearly neo-Gothic or neo-Renaissance but whose decoration is simply modernized, such as those by William Haensler, Georges Turck or the stand of the Professional Schools of the City of Paris. Other fireplaces are clearly Art nouveau in style, such as those in the dining rooms of the Épeaux and Dumas companys, both in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, which reinterpret the naturalistic style of the Nancéiens in superabundance.
The fireplace presented by Louis Bigaux is more personal, as is that of Henri Bellery-Desfontaine, who gives pride of place to painting on its large hood.
But real stylistic innovations are also present at this exhibition, within the class 66 (fixed decoration of public buildings and homes) with the wooden fireplace from Pierre Selmersheim’s stand and that of Guimard in bronzed cast iron and enamelled lava where structure and decoration merge into organic forms.
For a few years, unique pieces as exceptional as the fireplace in the Masson dining room in Nancy will be produced for wealthy sponsors. They are obviously out of reach for the vast majority of bourgeois budgets.
The purchase of a fireplace, part of the fixed decor of a residence, only concerns owners in the case of a new construction or the modernization of an old dwelling, and not the tenants. This is why the furniture sets sold by cabinet making firms on catalogue usually do not include them. They do, however, offer them at widely varying prices. The Épeaux house, for example, which on the eve of the First World War still hadn’t managed to sell its 1900 exhibition fireplace, displays it in its catalogue at 4,800 F-gold.
The Art Nouveau glazed stoneware fireplaces
Even though marble workshops produced carved mantels on a production line in a few tirelessly repeated models, any fantasy or simply any novelty would be all the more costly as an expensive material must be crafted by a specialized worker. Manufacturers of tile products, manufacturers of glazed stoneware tiles, as well as industrial stove makers therefore quickly understood that, thanks to glazed ceramics and especially glazed stoneware, they could go beyond the simple supply of tiles intended to decorate mantelpieces to mass produce the mantels themselves, made up of a few easily assembled elements offering excellent thermal qualities. In a simple horseshoe pattern around the hearth and with only the obligation to surmount it with one or more shelves and possibly to provide space for accessories (shovels and pokers), they could give free rein to the imagination of designers. This type of article is then of a sufficiently interesting profit for most manufacturers to launch on the market models of glazed stoneware fireplaces of modern style. Below are a few examples.
The earthenware factory of Sarreguemines, in the German-occupied Lorraine region, which for commercial reasons hid behind the names of its French plants in Digoin and Vitry-le-François, presented an Art Nouveau style glazed stoneware fireplace at the 1900 Universal Exhibition. The beautiful corolla motif of its central part is unfortunately weakened by the modeling of the rest of the mantel, consoles and shelves that the heat of the hearth seems to have melted away.
This series of articles devoted to the company of the ceramist Émile Muller in Ivry gives an overview of his creations in the field of Art Nouveau. In this fourth article, we try to identify the collaboration between Muller & Cie and Hector Guimard.
The Villa Charles Jassedé
Shortly after the construction of Louis Jassedé’s private mansion began in 1893, rue Chardon Lagache in Paris, Guimard began the construction of a villa in the Paris suburbs for Charles Jassedé, Louis’ cousin, at 63 route de Clamart (currently avenue du Général-de-Gaulle) in Issy-les-Moulineaux. As usual, he pushed the building back to the edge of the plot so that he could make the most of the garden.
Built on a much smaller budget than the Jassedé Hotel, this country house nevertheless presents some picturesque details such as its two deflections on the street façade, the high chimneys and the corbelling (more symbolic than real) of the straight span of this facade by oblique irons.
On this occasion, Guimard does not create new models of architectural ceramics, but simply draws from those he already has published at Muller & Cie and even from those in the catalogue. He therefore reuses his metope no. 13 to girdle the base of the corbelled bay (five metopes on the street side, seven on the right-hand side of the façade), also taking up the framing by angle irons and iron blades as for the lintels of the windows of the Hotel Jassedé.