Wednesday, February 29, 2012

L'enfant dans l'éscalier

photo: Atget

Toi que j'entends courir dans les escaliers de la maison
Et qui me caches ton visage et même le reste du corps,
Lorsque je me montre à la rampe,
N'es-tu pas mon enfance qui fréquente les lieux 
de ma préférence,                                                                                            
Toi qui t'éloignes difficilement de ton ancien locataire.
Je te devine à ta façon pour ainsi dire invisible
De rôder autour de moi lorsque nul ne nous regarde
Et de t'enfuir comme quelqu'un qu'on ne doit pas voir avec un autre.
Fort bien, je ne dirai pas que j'ai pu te reconnaître,
Mais garde aussi notre secret, rumeur cent fois familière
De petits pas anciens dans les escaliers d'à présent.

It's you I hear running in the stairways of the house,
Hiding your face and even the rest of your body
Whenever I appear at the banister.
Are you not my childhood wandering through my favorite places,
You who never  liked straying from your former lodger?
I can guess it's you by your so to speak invisible way
Of hovering around me when no one is watching us,
Then running off like someone that mustn't be seen with another.
Very well, I won't say that I was able to recognize you,
But keep our secret then, patter one hundred times familiar,
Small steps of old in the stairways of the present.

Jules Supervielle

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Étoffe d'époque

photo: RMN Anne-Sophie Grillat for the Manufacture Prelle
This yellow Gros de Tours with lilac-filled medallions was woven for Napoleon when he planned the   installation of his fourth salon in his apartments at the chateau of Versailles. In order to help the silk manufacturers of Lyon get back on their feet after the revolution, Napoleon  placed colossal  fabric orders, delivered from 1811 till 1813 and which were to make up a tremendous stock for all  the successive governments. This particular fabric was woven and delivered by Jean-Pierre Seguin of Lyon in 1812 at a time when  Napoleon was no longer concerned with decorating his appartments. A large part of the unused meterage was stored in the garde meuble de la couronne furniture depository. 

photo St Tyl

 Josephine Bonaparte bought the chateau de Malmaison in 1799 and it briefly became the seat of the French government from 1800 until 1802. Finding the residence too small, Napoleon installed the Premier Consul at St Cloud. Josephine continued living and embellishing Malmaison. She retired there definitively after her divorce in 1809 and there she died  in 1814.

Napoleon III, Josephine's grandson who had fond memories of his childhood sojourns at the chateau,  acquired Malmaison in 1861. Since the original furishings had long been dispersed, he decided to replace it with pieces that had furnished Josephine's salon at the palace of St Cloud and which remained there still at the time of the Second Empire. Before installing the furniture, he had it covered with the yellow medaillon fabric Napoleon I had had woven in 1812. We might speculate that in using these elements having belonged to Josephine and the Empire fabric to cover them, Napoleon III showed  concern for  authentic period decoration.

photo St Tyl
Hector VIGER 
 The Empress Josephine receiving the Tsar Alexander at the Malmaison

The above painting contains a  scene commissioned from Hector Vigier by Napoleon III. It shows the meeting of the Tsar Alexander with Josephine surrounded by her children, Eugene and Hortense, and with her grand children, Napoleon-Louis and Louis-Napoleon. 

Even with genuine Empire furnishings and fabric, the scene is anachronistic in that it shows the Salon Doré with its post-1861 decoration.

photo St Tyl
Today the condition of the upholstery necessitates its replacement and the chateau, a museum since 1906,  is  reproducing the precious silk to match the original quality of 1812 in every way. The reproduction is provided by the esteemed silk weaver, Prelle.

photo: RMN Anne-Sophie Grillat for the Manufacture Prelle
preliminary sampling 

photo RMN Marc-Antoine Mouterde for the Manufacture Prelle

photo: St Tyl
As the re-weaving continues, the newly upholstered furniture is replaced little by little in the salon. 

for more: Salon doré Malmaison

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poiret, Mallet-Stevens & un château moderne

photo: Patrice Besse
Tous les matériaux avaient été portés à pied d’œuvre et la maison était sortie du sol comme une plante vivace par les soins du prestigieux architecte qu’est Mallet-Stevens. Elle était toute blanche, pure, majestueuse, et un peu provocante, comme un lys.

All the materials were brought to the work site and the house grew out of the ground like a living plant under the tender care of its prestigious architect, Mallet-Stevens. It was all white, pure, majestic and a little provocative, just like a lily.
Paul Poiret

The villa Poiret, situated to the west of Paris at Mézy-sur-Seine and built between 1922-23, is now up for sale. Its restoration has gotten a lot of attention in recent years because of the building's architectural importance, being the first construction by Mallet-Stevens, architect who had first devoted his career to furniture and film set design. It is fascinating that this one building stands to the memory of two such influential but different design personalities:  Rob Mallet-Stevens, the cool thinking functional modernist and Paul Poiret, a flamboyant touche-à-tout who made life a highly decorated, luxurious, and sensuous fête

photo: acversailles
before restoration

The residence has had a spotty history of glamour and neglect. Poiret, the extravagant genius of couture, marketing and decoration had first considered Louis Sue, Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret before settling on Mallet-Stevens for the design of his château moderne

illustration Feu d'artifice Georges Lepape for Poiret

One imagies it as the perfect foil for Poiret's elaborate designs.

photo: acversailles

Once the structural work was done, financial problems made the construction come to a halt in 1924 and by the end of 1926, Poiret was bankrupt. Mallet-Stevens took photographs of the building which were published in at the time.
He described it,

Surfaces unies, arêtes vives, courbes nettes, matières polies, angles droits,
clarté, ordre. 
C'est ma maison logique et géométrique de demain.

Smooth surfaces, sharp edges, clean lines, polished materials, angles,
clarity, order. 
This is my logical, geometrical house of tomorrow.

The standstill was deplored in contemporary architectural circles, but Mallet-Stevens was also at work on the sets of L’inhumaine and Le villa de Noailles at Hyères.

photo: Drouot
If Poiret’s creative outpourings knew no end even in the most dire conditions, as much could be said, unfortunately, for his expenditures. In 1930 things had gotten so bad for him that he had nowhere to turn. He moved his furniture into the basement of what he joked were the premières ruines modernes,  - no windows, no heat, no water - 

photo: acversailles

and lived in the small but slightly more complete caretaker's house.

photo: acversailles

Je me suis habitué à ne plus etre riche. Celui qui ne s'habitue pas c'est mon percepteur. Il y a des gens qui continuent à me réclamer de l'argent comme s'il etait normal que j'en eusse. Je suis surpris qu'on puisse etre aussi heureux sans cela. J'habite une jolie campagne de l'Ile de France et s'il pleut quelquefois dans ma chambre, ma fenetre s'ouvre toute grande sur une vue superbe et laisse entrer largement l'air, la lumière, les ardeurs du soliel et la fraicheur des nuits.

I have gotten used to not being rich. The one who can't get used to it is my taxman. There are people who continue to ask me for money as though I should still have it. I am surprised that we can be so happy without any. I live in the beautiful countryside of the Ile-de-France and if it rains sometimes in my room, my window opens out wide on a superb view and largely lets in air, light, the heat of the sun and the cool of the night.

It was here at Mézy that he wrote the first of several very entertaining, very touching books of memoirs, En habillant l'époque, from which I have taken the above quote. 

photo: acversailles

The unfinished building was left abandoned for several years before being bought in 1933 by the Romanian born actress, Elvira Popescu, who later had it completed - with a certain number of modifications - by Charles Boyer. Mallet-Stevens was unable to do the job because he had taken refuge with his Jewish wife in the southwest of France after the declaration of hostilities in 1939. Far from leaving his memoirs, before his death in 1945, Rob Mallet-Stevens ordered that all the documents of his agency be destroyed.

The villa Poiret as it is today
the work of Mallet-Stevens