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Eugene Grasset

Pioneer of Art Nouveau


· art nouveau

Eugene Samuel Grasset (184?-1917) was born in Lausanne, Switzerland. Different sources quote different years of his birth (1841 and 1845) but all agree on May 25th. His father Samuel Joseph Grasset (181?-?) was a decorator, a designer, a maker, and a sculptor who was especially successful in the field of furniture. His mother was Jeanne Louise Marguerite Burnens. We have no useful data about her.

Eugene was raised in the circle of intellectuals and bourgeoisie in Laussane. His first big inspiration was picture books illustrated by Gustave Dore. First formal education came from a Swiss painter and art teacher at the school of industrial arts Francois Louis David Bocion (1828-1890).

Eugene's parents were worried by his enthusiasm over artistic career and convinced him to take architecture courses at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. There he met absorbed the theories of industrial arts by Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) but didn't finish the courses and never got a diploma.

He decided to visit Egypt, one of the main destinations of European artists in those times. He earned money in Marseilles by painting watercolors for tourists and working as an artisan. The landscape of Egypt became part of his artistic essence for the rest of his life. After a brief stop in Italy (another 'a must' for artists in the 19th century) he moved to Paris and started living as a painter, trying to earn some additional money by giving drawing lessons.

The war between France and Prussia forced him to return to Lausanne where he got a job as a sculptor. He created paintings for the ceiling and sculptures for the gallery in the theatre of Lausanne for a well-known architect Jules-Louis Verrey (1822-1896). He also met French Architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) who became famous by the restoration of medieval buildings and objects destroyed during the French Revolution. He was influenced by his theory of the balance between form, function, and material.

After his return to Paris, he decided to devote himself to applied arts (jewelry design, for instance) and completely abandoned painting. He continued to study archeology and Japanese art on his own. Between 1890 and 1903 he taught decorative composition and drawing of industrial art at Guerin and history and design at Estienne. Eugene Grasset became a member of the national society of fine arts and a founding member of the international society of folk art.

Grasset's legacy today is roughly divided into two stages: as a developing painter and a sculptor in Lausanne and as a successful industrial designer in Paris. This second stage made him world-wide famous and included embroideries, furniture design, handicrafts of wrought iron, mosaics, painted papers, porcelain decor, stained glass, tapestries, ... He was the first in France who accepted the philosophy of Arts and Crafts movement, started by William Morris with its simple yet powerful message: Celebrate the everyday.

The customers of Eugene Grasset were at least as colorful as his eclectic Art Nouveau style which was fused with symbolism, Art and Craft, Pre-Raphaelites, and Japanese prints, spanning from art institutions to railways, from stamps for Swiss and France to posters for exhibitions. Calendars in Art Nouveau presenting beautiful women surrounded by flowers and numerous decorative elements, including typography designed by him, found a place in homes all over Europe and America.

Here is a series of monthly calendars with blanks for tables with dates, titled La Belle Jardiniere from 1896:

I hope you enjoyed the trip into the history and hanging out with the calendars by Eugene Grasset, one of the biggest influences on Alphonse Mucha and definitely one of the fathers of Art Nouveau.

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