“Indeed the true master as well as the true initiator of the revival of the decorative arts in France, we will not deny, is Eugène Grasset.” Histoire générale de l’art français de la Révolution à nos jours (1923)
I first became aware of Eugène Grasset while I was working on an Art Nouveau publication for delsc. Although many may recognize his name, accounts of his work and theories are not easily found in English. In an effort to compensate for this lack, I have translated many articles about his works and quotes into English.
Grasset was labeled by his contemporaries as a Universal Artist for several reasons. He understood a variety of materials, how each required a different approach and how each could be applied to the different branches of the decorative arts. His business partners were leaders in each industry and that set him apart from other craftsmen of his day. He was passionate about his work as well as the application of new techniques and materials. He also seemed to be quiet, romantic, reserved and thoughtful. His works are certainly expressionistic, changing shapes and colors. Those who enjoy cubism may find themselves paying some tribute to Grasset’s geometric interpretations of nature. You may even find the dark lines of his works reminiscent of both stained glass works as well as Picasso’s works.
Grasset had many students including M.P. Verneuil, Mathurin Méheut, Augusto Giacometti, Paul Follot, and Paul Berthon. Louis Rhead has been quoted as owing his career to Grasset. A formidable work, his Méthode de Composition Ornementale, has had an impact not only on art but also architecture, of which he was most fond. He edited many of his student’s works as well as wrote a great deal. In observing his career, he naturally progressed from the artist exploring his craft, then perfecting his craft, and then encouraging his students and others to perfect their own craft. Grasset’s contributions later in his life focused on education and supporting his students’ ambitions.
Both Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) were influenced by Grasset, the later being credited as a founder of modern architecture. According to a book by Nicholas Fox Weber, Pierre Jeanneret became obsessed with his book on ornament and talked his way into Grasset’s office. This visit impacted the pupil with the following point of view attributed to Grasset: “Everything can be saved by a method of construction which is beginning to be widespread: you make board boxes, you put iron rods inside and fill them up with concrete. . . The result: pure form of coffering. It is called reinforced concrete. So go and see the Perret brother. ”
For those interested in architecture, the Fondation Le Corbusier reports that in 1908 the two men met in Paris. An article in Reflections (MIT, Department of Architecture) states that “For research on Baroque art, this has yielded both advantages and disadvantages. What might appear, geometrically, so logical is not yet by any means the differentia specifica of artistic expression. The dichotomy, for example, between Renaissance and Baroque is not simply to be explained away by the contrast between straight and curved, no matter how popular this pairing has been ever since the idea of ars oppositorum was first developed in late medieval times. The idea lasted up until Eugène Grasset’s comprehensive theory of ornament, which was divided into the treatment of rectilinear elements and curved elements. In the hands of Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret), these then took a distinct turn towards the respective geometrical bases of forms.”
Whether you are interested in art history, beautiful images, or new ways to approach your designs, I believe this survey of the works of Grasset will be joy to read. As the expressionist, he hoped to make an impact on the viewer but in a very thoughtful way.