Emile Galle’s last masterpiece to be auctioned in Paris

Front and back views (top and bottom images, repectively) of Emile Galle Nocture commode. Image courtesy of Christie’s Paris

PARIS – In their November 15 Japonism sale, Christie’s France will feature the Nocturne commode created by Émile Gallé between 1900 and 1904. It is estimated at €200.000-€300.000.

Commissioned by the famous collector and magistrate of Nancy, Henry Hirsh, to mark his wedding in 1903, the commode is part of the last set designed by Gallé before his death in 1904. That same year it was presented at the exhibition of Decorative Arts of Nancy. During this retrospective, postponed by two weeks due to Gallé’s death, the Nocturne commode was presented alongside other pieces of furniture designed for Henry Hirsh as a bedroom suite for his Parisian apartment, namely: a vitrine aux libellules (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), an aube et crépuscule bed (Musée de l’École de Nancy) and a Faune et Flore exotiques wardrobe whose location still remains unknown today.

The commissioner of these magnificent pieces of furniture was born in Epinal in 1860 and started studying law, per his father wish. As a magistrate, Hirsh often went to Paris to attend art exhibitions. It was during the 1889 Universal Exhibition that he first discovered Émile Gallé and his remarkable creations. He began to follow the glassmaker’s production, acquiring whenever possible the high-quality creations which appeared on the market. During the second Parisian Universal Exhibition in 1900, Hirsch discovered the last creation made by Gallé: the Ipomea wardrobe, from the botanic name of the flowers Belles-de-jour (today present at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London). He immediately ordered the same form from Gallé, but this time with different patterns and utilizing more-precious materials.

Following Henry Hirsh’s death, his son Claude sells an exceptional set of 18 glassware to the city of Nancy in 1950, and later the bed Aube et Crépuscule in 1960 today present in the collections of the Nancy’s school museum. Several years later, the vitrine and our wardrobe Nocturne are sold to Robert S. Walker, an art dealer and collector living in Paris.

The Vitrine aux libellules entered the collections of the Musée d’Orsay in 1983 and the Nocturne commode was acquired by an American private collection until its recent rediscovery.

Walker was an insatiable collector who, during the 1960s, recognized the importance and the quality of Art Nouveau artworks. Thanks to his foresight and instinct, he managed to find and purchase pieces of the highest quality.

Gallé has always claimed choosing nature as his first inspiration. It was logical that the extremely naturalistic Japanese objects of the Meiji period, introduced in France at the Universal Exhibition of 1867 in Paris, influenced and inspired him. Gallé began to design remarkable artworks, combining Japanese influence and his own French heritage. Henri Frantz wrote about Emile Gallé: “It was from Japanese art that he derived the general scheme, the fundamental principle of his style; but we must not infer that he imitates it in any servile manner. Nothing can be more unlike Japanese art than Monsieur Gallé’s work […] Only the idea of the Japanese style is also his; and given that principle he has work it out by the light of his own instinct and taste.” (The Magazine of Art, March 1897).

The Nocturne commode was created with specific requests from Hirsch, such as the inclusion within the motif of chrysanthemums and a couple of butterflies, symbolizing his recent marriage. Gallé chose to embed these decorative elements with mother-of-pearl, rendering an elegant Japanese appearance.

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