Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Many Talents of André Arbus

by Lauren Stewart-Ebert

Cabinet by André Arbus, circa 1942.

André Leon Arbus was born near Toulouse, France on November 17, 1903. Emanating from a storied family of ébénistes, he continued the tradition of cabinet making in grand fashion, even broadening his area of expertise to architecture – home design, lighthouses and a remarkable ocean liner…

The Normandie

Arbus studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse. After graduating, he began working for his father’s firm. Throughout the 1930’s, he exhibited his work in Paris, Brussels and New York.

Cabinet by André Arbus, circa 1948, in painted wood with gilded bronze ornamentation.

A pair of ebonized armchairs with leather upholstery by André Arbus

Although Arbus ended the family tradition of producing 18th century style furniture, he incorporated many classic designs into his pieces, particularly those of the French Empire period. He rejected the tenets of the Union of Modern Artists (a popular and well known group of Art Nouveau and Art Deco artists) and continued to create pieces the “old fashioned” way, working with fine veneers, lacquers, parchment and bronze.

An Art Deco side table, circa 1945, by André Arbus draws from the French Directoire period.

A dining table by André Arbus, circa 1943, in rosewood veneer with lyre base.

Another Art Deco period dining table in rosewood veneer with lyre base.

During the 1940’s, Arbus was regularly contracted by the French government to furnish department headquarters and to “rejuvenate” national palaces. When the Elysée Palace was reopened after World War II, he worked with Jules Leleu to renovate the first floor of the central building.

He was commissioned by Le Mobilier National to design a desk for the U.S. Ambassador, W.H. Harriman, and to decorate the post World War II Medici Room of the Chateau de Rambouillet.

The Chateau de Rambouillet.

Arbus later focused his attention on architecture and built several farmhouses throughout France. Between 1947 and 1951, he renovated a lighthouse (originally constructed in the late 1700’s) on the Ilot du Planier, near Marseille.

The lighthouse at Ilot du Planier.

One of his most prominent works of this era was his contribution to the interiors of the S.S. Normandie, the largest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liner of the time.

The grand dining hall of The Normandie

One of the many lounges on The Normandie

Arbus spent the latter part of his life concentrating on bronze sculpture and passed away at the age of 66 in Paris. His talent inspired his contemporaries in France for years and his timeless styles continue to be reproduced by modern cabinet makers today.

A bronze table by André Arbus, circa 1949

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 05:09:00 PM
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Murano Glass: A Thousand Year Old Love Affair

by Cynthia Fray

The story of Venetian glass is one of art history’s most fascinating tales; over a thousand years old, it has captured the hearts of artists, royalty, noblemen, politicians and entrepreneurs the world over, growing to mythic proportions with epic accounts of obsession and passion, secrecy and intrigue, even betrayal. And no wonder everyone’s making a fuss, given the extremes this mysterious art form has had to endure: racing to the top of its industry, dominating the post for centuries then crumbling to near demise in the blink of an eye, enduring the pains of rejection, humiliation and defeat, then rising up again, almost by magic, finding the strength and the will to reclaim its rightful place in the universe (the glass universe that is)… Sounds more like a love story than an historical narrative. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what this is – a love story that started once upon a time, long, long ago in a far away place…

Venice, Italy

Laguna Veneta
The Island of Murano, (as it is frequently described – it is actually an archipelago connected by bridges) is located one mile north of Venice in the Laguna Veneta. Inhabited since the 5th century, it did not become the epicenter of glass-making until the late 13th century when the Serenissima (the Republic of Venice) ordered all glass furnaces be moved from the central island of Venice to the island of Murano. This evacuation was motivated by the inherent fire hazard these ovens posed for a city constructed mostly of wood. Some argue that this was in fact a political move to protect the increasingly coveted secrets of glass-making and to claim a monopoly on the industry. As a result, and quite by accident, this concentration of maestri or master glass blowers on this single tiny island created a rather competitive environment which resulted in very high quality glass and the development of new techniques and innovative ideas for glass decoration.

Venice and the Island of Murano

On Top of the World
The exportation of Murano glass became a major source of income for the Republic of Venice, and a major source of glass for all of Europe. By the 14th century the Venetians had reached the pinnacle of the industry enjoying a virtual monopoly on the glass market. No other country could even begin to compete with Murano glass – the Venetians alone held the secrets of making the most beautiful glass. It was inimitably transparent, luminous, sparkling, thin and light to the touch. It could be enameled, painted, tinted or colored (even mistaken for precious stones), engraved and fused, stretched and blown into a multitude of forms, decorated in infinite ways. It had ascended into the realm of a true art form, unsurpassable.

Murano glass chandeliers

Success and power, nevertheless, came at a price, and that price was shrewdly monitored by the rulers of Venice. Trade secrets were fiercely guarded by the Republic and craftsmen became veritable prisoners on the island. Although highly regarded in social circles and awarded privileges worthy of nobility, the maestri were regularly reminded by threat of death that leaving the island was strictly forbidden. A system of glass guilds was devised wherein each member was bound by a set of guild rules that set limits on production and distribution and provided detailed guidelines for sales transactions. Guild members took on specific roles involved in the production of the glass and this division of labor led to an increase in productivity and quality of work.

Murano glass lighting

Secret Ingredients
Although glass is an evolving art form in which each and every stage of the process contributes to the final beauty of a piece, the real secret of Venetian glass lies in the raw materials. The base ingredient is silica, the most common form of which is sand. While sand has the virtue of a relatively low melting point, it also bears the unfortunate fault of containing many impurities which discolor the glass. Production of transparent, colorless glass, called cristallo for its resemblance to rock crystal, was extremely difficult, and consequently, limited, expensive and highly sought after. This exquisite cristallo glass was and still is the basis of all Venetian glass design. To obtain perfect clarity of glass, the very best raw materials were needed. Ordinary sand was replaced by quartz pebbles called cogoli. These pebbles were repeatedly heated and dipped into cold water to remove impurities and then ground into a fine powder for melting.

Venetian glassblowers

The second most crucial ingredient to glass making is the fluxing agent. The fluxing agent enables the glass to melt at a lower temperature, thereby making it possible to melt glass in wood burning ovens made of clay. Venetians used a Levant soda ash called alume catino procured by burning plants from the Levantine region, and for which they held the sole monopoly.

Finally, manganese was added to the mix, which further inhibited colorization and had the added benefit of lengthening the time that glass would stay molten and pliable, allowing the glass workers more time and freedom to work on their designs. Once all the ingredients were mixed into a “batch”, the glass batch was heated, stirred and cooled repeatedly until just right. Once a perfect, crystal clear batch of molten glass was produced, it was passed on to the master glassblowers and glass cutters who then put their talents to work in search of perfection. Perfection, for the maestri, translated into the following: clarity of color, universal thickness, absolute symmetry and balance, and last but not least, a unique design. This required a steady hand and an artist’s vision. Once the glass piece was produced, it was then transferred to yet another guild of artisans who specialized in decoration and painting.

Venetian glassblower

Slow Decline
By the early 17th century, King Louis XIV of France had had all he could stand of the Venetians and their Murano glass monopoly. He successfully used his influence (and his money) to lure several fearless craftsmen to come work for him in Versailles and share their precious knowledge of glass. After that time in history, everything changed. The secrets were out and glass-making flourished all over Europe creating formidable competition for the Venetians.

By the early 19th century, Napoleon had conquered Venice and handed her off to Austria – now the Venetians were in real trouble. The Austrians, who favored Bohemian glass over Murano glass, severely restricted imports of raw materials to Venice making it almost impossible for many of the foundries to make glass. By the mid-19th century most of the glass shops were closed, with the few surviving ones reduced to making conteries or glass trading beads. In merely a few decades, the once revered culture surrounding the Murano glassblowers had completely disappeared from the island and the age-old techniques and recipes which the Venetians had preciously preserved for hundreds of years were practically forgotten.

Murano glass beads

Rebirth of an Ancient Art
Sometime later, things took a turn for the better. In 1854, six Italian brothers, sons of Pietro Toso, decided to open a new glass manufacturing company. The firm Fratelli Toso concentrated at first on domestic and pharmaceutical glass, but soon revealed they had much greater skills and even greater ambitions.

Fratelli Toso

In 1859 an industrious lawyer by the name of Antonio Salviati, arrived in Venice with an idea for a niche market: glass tiles to replace the old decaying mosaics all over Venice. His firm, Salivati dott. Antonio fu Barolerneo included the glass blower Lorenzo Radi – another artist aspiring to resurrect the traditional glass blowing techniques of the 15th century. Salviati’s skill at marketing his glass proved to be his true calling, and he quickly established new distribution channels in London and elsewhere after triumphant success at the London World Expo in 1862.

In 1864, Vincenzo Zanetti opened the Museo d’Arte Vetraria or Murano Glass Museum (which functioned as more of a school than a museum). He began teaching the lost glass blowing techniques that once made the Venetians famous. The Fratelli Toso made a magnificent glass chandelier for the inauguration of the Museum (still in place to this day) which some say marked the Venetians official re-entry into the glass blowing art industry. It was a spectacular work of art, reminiscent of Murano’s earlier years of glory.

By 1866, Venice was freed from Austrian rule and became a part of the Kingdom of Italy which further facilitated the production and expansion of the glass industry.

Museo d’Arte Vetraria

Modern Times
The reclaimed skills in glass blowing and the recent Art Nouveau influences of the time attracted all sorts of artist groups to Venice around the turn-of-the-century. During the first Biennale in Venice in 1895, artists from all over Europe came to challenge the maestri to stretch their talents and become “true artists” as opposed to just “artisans”. Informal artist groups were formed to generate new artistic ideas, and glass as an art form took off in all directions.

In 1921, Paolo Venini, a lawyer from Milan and Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian born antiques dealer also from Milan, founded a new company by the name of Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin Venini & C. Their focus was on modern glass design and although Venini had no glass blowing experience, he was a skillful entrepreneur and expert collaborator with an interest in architecture. Venini had a keen sense of taste and an eye for talent and successfully attracted the most gifted artists, including the likes of Scarpa, Ponti and Bianconi. The partnership ended in 1925, but Venini stayed on, changing the name of the firm to Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C. Joined by Napoleon Martinuzzi, a sculptor who developed the pulegoso technique in 1930 (the use of opaque glass), Venini began experimenting with controversial and unforeseen techniques that broke completely with tradition. Their fervor caught on all over Murano and soon many glass designers were following their lead such as Barovier, Seguso, Zecchin, and Fuga, just to name a few.

Murano glass vase

Threatened again by war in the 1940’s, the industry managed to stay afloat and after World War II it was bustling again, bursting with pent up artistic energy, making the 1950’s some of the most creative and innovative years the island of Murano has ever seen. Today, the works created during this time period are considered the most desirable by collectors and are in high demand. The Murano glass artists of that time collaborated with artists worldwide, including Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Jean Cocteau. They also served as mentors to the artists who started the American Studio Glass Movement in the 1960s, such as Littleton and Labino.

Labino glass piece

Vintage Murano glass can still be found with relative ease. If a quick trip to Murano isn’t feasible, then working with a reputable antiques dealer or auction house is a good place to start. If the price of vintage Murano glass is not in your budget, then look for more recent or even new Murano glass; the quality and the designs are still considered the world’s finest. And one look through the depths of this ancient art form and it will all become crystal clear… you are simply going to fall in love.


AVVENTURINA Clear glass with metal flecks, often copper, creating a shimmery, metallic look. The process is aptly named, as it means “adventure” describing the difficulty of working with this process.

CRISTALLO A very clear and pure, colorless Venetian glass.

FILIGRANA, RETICELLO, RETORTOLI Reticello is one of the most time-consuming and technical of Venetian color techniques. To create the reticello pattern, two twisted cane cups are fused together. The cups must be twisted in opposite directions, and the low spots between the canes act to trap air, creating the little air bubbles found inside each diamond of the resulting pattern.

FILO Decoration made by applying a thread – which can be of various thicknesses and colors – usually on the upper rim or on the base of objects such as vases, cups or glasses.

LATTIMO Opaque white glass produced for the first time in Murano during the first half of the fifteenth century, imitating Chinese porcelain.

MURRINE A glass technique first developed by the Romans and rediscovered in the late 1800’s. Thin sections of glass rods are fused together and then blown, formed or molded into the desired shape. The rods are often designed to create a floral or geometric design

OPALINE Partly semitransparent milk glass that changes colors under different light.

PASTA VITREA A very difficult technique to master, in which a colored, opaque glass is made by adding clear or colored crystals to molten glass.

PULEGOSO Translucent glass characterized by innumerable bubbles (“puleghe”) contained in the glass, obtained by chemical reaction during the heating process.

SOMMERSO A technique used to create thick layered objects by repeatedly dipping a piece into various crucibles of molten glass to form a multi- layered or multi-hued effect.

TESSUTO A multicolored, often striped glass made by fusing colored rods placed together in an alternating pattern and blown.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:55:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Five Minutes With Artist Meredith Pardue

Meredith Pardue, one of Louisiana’s hottest contemporary artists in the art world today (soon to be one of Austin’s own!) was in town last week for her latest exhibit entitled “Unbound (Seven Parts of a Rainstorm)”. The show opened in our gallery Thursday evening to an enthusiastic and receptive crowd. Thanks to all who joined us, including Meredith, the show was a success, and a memorable evening for all.

Afterwards we sat down with Meredith for a lovely conversation about her work, her inspiration and some insight into her life as an artist. Enjoy…

Meredith Pardue

Jean-Marc Fray: Meredith, when did you decide to become an artist?
Meredith Pardue: I don’t think I ever decided to become an artist. I have always painted, and throughout my life it has been the only thing that I have consistently loved and practiced.

JMF: How would you describe your style?
MP: Abstract. The canvases are composed of organic forms that are similar to, and possibly even derivative of, those found in nature, but ultimately the paintings are a visual record of an unplanned dialog between myself and a blank canvas. The marks and forms create a language that reads as something unique to each viewer.

JMF: Where do you find your inspiration?
MP: Music, nature, visual art, weather, human relationships, the general dynamic of living.

JMF: Which artists do you admire and how have they influenced your work?
MP: Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Tom Waits, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Jack Pierson, Peter Paul Reubens, Bob Dylan, Franz Klein, Stevie Wonder, Agnes Martin, Joni Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Alberto Giacometti, Richard Diebenkorn. There are so many more, but those are probably the most significant in terms of influence on my work.
I am certain that somehow fragments of what I encounter through sight or sound and the emotional response that accompanies any meaningful experience with a work of art, manifest themselves in my work. That sounds vague, but it is just so subtle and intricate the way things combine together to form something new.

JMF: What’s your favorite medium?
MP: I use oil and water based media on canvas, linen, and paper. I love them all.

JMF: Could you talk a little about your latest series of paintings, “Unbound (Seven Parts of a Rainstorm)” ?
MP: The paintings address the freedom found in chaos, and the clarity that ultimately emerges from scenarios that previously, in their high energy, appeared disorganized. The drips in the paintings occurred at the beginning of the painting process, and I delineated each form in the composition as it sort of emerged from the mess. So, the process of how these paintings were made speaks of the content.

You are a mother of two – how do you juggle parenting and painting?
MP: I just dive into each day face first. I don’t think the work I do is any more demanding than what other working mothers do. I set regular office and studio hours for myself, and I feel panicky and nervous if I am not working really hard during those hours. I do not sit down until I get in the bed at night.

JMF: What do you do when you’re not painting?
MP: Spending time with my boys, running, reading, yoga, taking care of the one of the many living things in our house. And I am learning how to cook.

JMF: Any words of advice you’d like to pass on to aspiring artists?
MP: Have a disciplined daily studio schedule and stick to it. Deliver what you promised when you said you would, and you are already ahead of most other artists. Keep the old ego in check…nobody likes a crazy artist. Your work is also your passion, so a moment of gratitude here and there is probably in order.

Unbound (Seven Parts of a Rainstorm) – on display in our gallery through November 30, 2009. See the whole series here. See more of Meredith’s work here.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 06:28:00 PM
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Friday, November 06, 2009

Holiday Shopping Card – Nov. 6th- 15th

Save 20% with your

Holiday Shopping Card!

Nov. 6th-15th, 2009*
Support the American Cancer Society

Save 20% on any item in our gallery
when you shop with your Holiday Shopping Card*.
Cards available in our gallery ($50), valid at all participating Austin merchants from November 6th to the 15th. Card proceeds benefit the American Cancer Societey.

This is a perfect time to view our New Fall Shipment!
So get your holiday shopping off to an early start,
and shop for a good cause.
Support the American Cancer Society today.

*Fine art excluded. Offer cannot be combined with any other store discounts.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 06:44:00 PM
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