circuitous, and worn-out conduits which could not do otherwise than become fouled and contaminated by the foreign accumulations of ages. We find the same fact illustrated everywhere. The sphinxes of the old Egyptians ; the an-themion of the Greeks ; the bold wreaths and foliations of the Romans ; and the crisp and sparkling leafage of the Gothic—to quote but a few typical examples—were instinct with life and beauty when inspired direct by Nature ; but, when reproduced, their true origin is, more often than not, lost sight of, and, as an inevitable consequence, much of their beauty has departed.
The foregoing is, I think, as complete and impartial a summing-up of the " New Art" as need be given here. On account of considerations of space, I wish that it might have been expressed more briefly, but the movement in itself is one of very great importance and far-reaching influence— notwithstanding the fact that some writers who have not studied it, nor appreciated it, as it should be studied and appreciated, are disposed to treat the whole as an evanescent "craze"—and it would be altogether unwarrantable for us to dismiss it with inadequate notice.
But it is now time to turn from mere theoretical generalisation to actual demonstration, and take a glance at as many actual examples of this "New Art" work as may fitly be included between the covers of such a book as this. In selecting types for illustration, my aim has been to obtain them from genuine and unimpeachable sources, so that no question as to their authenticity might be raised ; and also to present only such as can be regarded as representative, in every respect.
In the writing-table, Fig. 3, Plate I., we have a constructive form which, in every particular, suggests natural growth ; yet, except in matters of minor detail, there is no attempt in this to copy nature exactly. The same remark applies to Fig. 2, and in a lesser degree to Figs. 1 and 4. The under
the " new art" in france 303
supports—they can scarcely be called legs—of the two first named certainly bring to mind the tree trunk, but it is the tree trunk adapted to a specific purpose, and not as found in its natural state in the woodland or forest glade. In connection with these plates I must explain that it is quite impossible to convey a completely correct impression of any of the pieces by means of mere black-and-white sketches ; the originals must be seen in all the richness of the choicest mahogany, relieved by leaves, blossoms, and tendrils, exquisitely modelled and chased in fine brass, which is finished dull, and polished only here and there so as to give the necessary " high lights." Their effect may then be properly appreciated. I do not consider that they are altogether graceful ; but the conception and execution of every one are characterised by a spontaneity and vigour which convey, with irresistible force, the impression that the artists and craftsmen responsible for them took a veritable delight in their execution. Every part is instinct with "life/' the presence of which goes far to reconcile us to the licence in which the designers have indulged. Moreover, so far as construction is concerned, no one could reasonably raise any objection to them on the score of stability or soundness. Exception may, however, be taken to the enrichment of the back of the upper recess in the wardrobe (Fig. 4) by the introduction of most elaborate and costly inlay, which should never have been there, as it cannot be seen to advantage in such a situation, particularly if the recess be used for the storage of anything bulky.
The bedstead depicted in Fig. 1 is far more graceful in form than its companions on the same plate ; and it gives us, at the same time, a demonstration of the French mar-quetry-cutter's skill, which, with its pleasing design, based on a rare orchid, and all its wealth of choice and subtle colouring, is fascinating in the extreme. The design of the inlay, moreover, has clearly been specially planned to " fill "
Was this article helpful?