The carob seed has the characteristic of maintaining a constant weight, regardless of the ambient humidity. The merchants of antiquity had understood this, using it to weigh gold and gems. The carat that owes its name to it officially became in 1914 the unit of mass measurement for diamonds and precious stones. In addition to providing this tool to the jewelry world, nature is an inextinguishable source of inspiration for him. The close ties between the plant and the jewelry world have never relaxed.
As early as 1795, Marie-Etienne Nitot, the founder of the house that will take the name of Chaumet, introduced himself as a “naturalist jeweler”. A qualifier that has become a raison d’être over the centuries. Also, when she decides to celebrate nature, the house can immerse itself in its extraordinary heritage, to resonate this naturalistic identity with other artistic forms. The exhibition brings together 400 works including paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs, furniture alongside 80 jewelry items signed Chaumet, but also Boucheron, Tiffany, Lalique, Vever, Gaillard, Fouquet, Marret Frères.
Despite the pandemic, more than 70 lenders, French and foreign, mobilized. Among them, the National Museum of Natural History, the Louvre which, very exceptionally, sent two Arcimboldo, the Institut de France, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew … Loans that allow to present lilies of Fantin-Latour from the Victoria & Albert Museum, Gustave Caillebotte’s Capuchins, or a Christian Dior dress embroidered with lily of the valley.
For Jean-Marc Mansvelt, General Manager of Chaumet, “The theme of the plant takes on a new dimension under the Consulate and the Empire thanks to the link between the Nitot and the Empress Josephine, who was passionate about botany.” We wanted to cross eyes and universes. This is how the format of the exhibition was imposed, which proposes to relearn how to look at plant species like a botanist. »
Very rich archives
For two years, Marc Jeanson, curator of the expo, former head of the Herbarium of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, now the botanical director of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, delved into the very rich archives of Chaumet: 60,000 negatives, 33,000 glass plates and 300,000 prints from the photography studio allowing since the end of the XIXe century to keep track of every piece of jewelry passed through the workshop. Not to mention the 66,000 designs, the first receptacle of the jeweler’s inventiveness. The oak of Odilon Redon, lent by the Musée d’Orsay, with a photograph of an oak leaf tiara are compared. A shot of wheat ears dialogues with a wheat field by Raoul Dufy, an embroidery of a fashion show by Yves Saint Laurent and a canvas by Bartolomeo Bimbi …
Built according to the herbarium principle, the exhibition presents the species in the landscapes in which they coexist, cave, forest, estran, reedbed, and then domesticated nature including theager, born with agriculture ten thousand years ago, represented by seven species including wheat, oats and umbels. Thehortus welcomes twenty-three categories of flowers, rose, rosehip, bramble, lily, lily of the valley, passionflower.
Many unexpected works amplify the appeal of (re) discovery. Sketch of ivy by Le Corbusier, study of thistles by Eugène Delacroix, photographs of hyacinths by Dora Maar or peonies by Robert Mapplethorpe or painting of irises by Otto Dix, flowers by Gustave Courbet …. The extent of the historical setting, a survey of the wall fresco dating from five thousand to eight thousand years or the water lilies collected on the mummy of Ramses II in the cardboard forest of Eva Jospin, confronts the time of the plant, which is born, s’ blooms and dies, and that of the herbarium, which makes it almost immortal.
Particularly expressive, the tulip thus engenders a conversation over four centuries between an oil by the Dutch painter Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp from 1638, sepals herbalized by the naturalist Michel Adanson, an engraving by the German botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof, but also a watercolor by Berthe Morisot and a study for a Chaumet brooch, both from 1890, and finally a 1932 Brassaï pistil test.
Women in the spotlight
The multiplicity of glances also makes it possible to give back their place to women. Starting with Josephine. Passionate about natural sciences, she surrounds herself with renowned botanists such as Etienne-Pierre Ventenat, Charles-François de Mirbel and Aimé Bonpland and will be hailed by the Museum’s naturalists for her innovative impetus to botany. and horticulture. In particular, it contributes to the fame of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, who has gone down in history as the “Raphael of Flowers”, as evidenced by his roses, irises and poppies presented in the exhibition.
The visitor discovers the algae cyanotypes of Anna Atkins, author of the first botanical book illustrated by photographs and a member of the London Botanical Society, one of the few to accept women in 1839. Her work is closely related to the studies of kelp by Yvonne Jean-Haffen and a seaweed bronze by Sarah Bernhardt. The grape bunches of Séraphine de Senlis are compared with a set of purple pearls, enamel and gold from 1850 by Jean-Valentin Morel and a virgin vine necklace by Claude Lalanne from 1984. To the sound of a booklet imagined by Laurence Equilbey , the visitor also meets the lilies of Laure Albin-Guillot, the chrysanthemums of Luzia Simons, the carnations of the Vesque sisters, the oat ears of Elisabeth Teinturier, Countess of Carfort.
Exceptionally released from the Louvre, “Le Printemps” and “L’Eté” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo break the voluntary absence of any human representation. Composed of the different plant species that the visitor observed throughout his walk, the two paintings conclude the exhibition alongside a “Tapestry with yarrow” of the XVIe 8 meters long.
“Vegetable.” L’Ecole de la beauté ”, from June 17 to September 4, 2022 at the Beaux-Arts, 13, quai Malaquais, 75006 Paris, from Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 noon to 8 pm.