This week, at every dinner party, only one word was been mentioned “Vegetal” (botanical): the title of the new fantastic exhibition based on plants’ designs in Chaumet’s jewelry, where one almost regrets that there is not more jewelry. Contemporary artists and classical painters have been united by curator and botanist Marc Jeanson to fill two floors of celebration of nature at Ecole des Beaux Arts. The decor is as luxurious as a shop on Place Vendôme and the mix of art which includes a Saint Laurent embroidered wool crêpe jacket and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, but also medieval tapestries and Arcimboldo’s paintings from the Louvre is stunning. Since the Van Cleef exhibition of gems at Museum d’Histoire naturelle last year, Parisians have been alerted to the strong link between the earth and precious stones. This time we are learning about Joseph Chaumet‘s passion for botanic and the deep ties between nature and artists since the creation of the house in 1780 by Marie-Etienne Nitot and his follower’s Jean Baptiste Fossin‘s perfect drawings.
The curator of the show, Marc Jeanson, is primarily an agricultural engineer and a botanist with a PHD from the New York Botanical garden. He used to run the herbarium of 8 million entries at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris after Montpellier and curated the exhibition “Gardens” at the Grand Palais in 2017. He is also a specialist of palm trees and is currently botanical director of Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. His role was to identify all drawings, models for tiaras in maillechort and jewelry in the Chaumet archives and develop the botanical background for them.
This is really how the project started: in 2012, the late garden designer Pascal Cribier organized a symposium at Bois des Moutiers in Varengeville where he invited the young Jeanson. Béatrice de Plinval, who lives part of the year in Varengeville and was a close friend of Mary Mallet, met this 30 year old passionate botanist and started discussing with him. She had created the archives department and museum at Chaumet in 1980, after working for twelve years in the studio. I remember her taking us around the famous tiaras made by the jeweler for queens and Empress Joséphine in the 19 th century. The two discussed passionately about the importance of vegetal designs in the collections and this is how this exhibition was recently approved by Jean Marc Mansvelt the CEO since 2014.
The show is cleverly organized with associations and dialogues. The themes of wheat, ferns, oak leaves, gingko, mistletoe or just large trees are symbolized in many ways with jewelry or drawings, prints, paintings, herbariums, sculptures… The eye discovers new marvels at every corner. An extraordinary safe room on the first floor was built for the two Arcimboldo from the Louvre with a 1530-1535 Franco Flemish tapestry “millefiori” lent by the Antico Palazzo dei Vescovi, in Pistoia in front of a table top in semi precious stones made after a drawing by Jacopo Ligozzi from the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle.
In this same room, called Mille Fiori, a study by Girolamo Pini from 1614 was lent by MAD, a painting by Desportes and drawings by Joseph Chaumet from 1890 are also superb. Many less famous artists I love are represented here such a sDutch engraver Siemen Dijkstra and Jean Baptiste Sécheret, Séraphine Louis, the cleaning lady who became a painter in Senlis, Dom Robert the Benedictine monk, friend of my parents, who made tapestries in the 1960’s and herman de vries. There is a “Virginia Creeper” necklace by Claude Lalanne, a photograph of a tree by Rodney Graham, the Canadian artist who always represents trees upside down. and a beautiful piece of “Alpi Maritime” by Giuseppe Penone. At the entrance of the show, one is welcome by a tree sculpture, “galleria” by Eva Jospin.
I don’t have enough space to show you everything but what is important in this exhibition is that it is a tribute to the plant kingdom and the infinity of its forms, structures, textures and colors. It presents the botanical world through the eyes of artists, scientists, designers and jeweler. It si whimsical and exceptionally precious, the best of what can be shown today in teh French luxury and art worlds. Do not miss it.
The only criticism I would make is of the catalog which is esthetically pretentious and where many works are truncated or simply left out. And apparently some of the private lenders were not invited to the opening… The choker by Lucien Gaillard representing gingko leaves was labeled fern choker… but I am sure it has been changed since, after I alerted about four different Chaumet PR’s…
Ecole des Beaux Arts, from 12 pm to 8 pm closed Monday and Tuesday. Until September 4.
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