Although he was destined for painting and sculpture, Louis Majorelle actually established himself as one of the greatest ‘furniture sculptors’ in history, taking over the family cabinet-making business upon the death of his father at the end of the 1870s.

Very quickly, and in contrast to his contemporaries, Majorelle favoured form over decoration, realising wooden furniture with sober and clean forms. His creations were robust but lightened by curves and open-arched uprights, and sometimes highlighted with sinuous bronzes that came to marry the arches of their structures. Majorelle created furniture of rare quality, pieces that now embody the luxury of Art Nouveau. His works drew their decorations from nature, where marquetry played a purely ornamental role.

Building on his success at the Universal Exhibition of 1900, at the Salon of the Society of Fine Arts of 1904 Majorelle unveiled a half-tailed piano carved and inlaid by the Nancy painter Victor Prouvé. The work was presented under the theme of The Death of the Swan, and was a work whose presence was well noticed at the time. At the end of the 19th century, the figure of the graceful white volcano was very present in the arts and transcended disciplines, appearing both in Baudelaire's poetry, in Tchaikovsky's musical compositions, and in the works of the École de Nancy artists.

The scene presented on the piano was inspired by the opera Parsifal, composed by Richard Wagner in 1882, wherein the knight Parsifal shoots a swan, an animal then considered sacred.

Emblematic of the Art Nouveau style by the power of its lines, this piano with Erard mechanism was originally intended as the centrepiece of a large living room to host musical meetings. In order to do justice to the importance of this work, Majorelle called Victor Prouvé, a major figure of the École de Nancy, and someone who, in 1904, took the lead on the death of Emile Gallé, to achieve the virtuoso decor of The Death of the Swan. The theme, which may seem tragic, is actually a reference to poems emphasising the precise moment of death when the swan emits its paroxysmal song, a song so melodious that it was dedicated to Apollo, the God of Music, in Greek mythology.

The piano, which will be presented for sale at Tajan on 16 May, is one of only four The Death of the Swan pianos known to date. The first is kept in the collections of the Virginia Fine Art Museum; the second, commissioned by Eugene Corbin, is on display at the Museum of the École de Nancy; the third, unsigned, is not located; and finally this one at Tajan was commissioned by Charles-Auguste Masson.

Eugène Corbin and Charles-Auguste Masson were knowledgeable Nancy traders who, throughout their lives, supported the artists of the École de Nancy through regular commissions, and posthumously, contributed to the enrichment of the collection from the Museum of the École de Nancy.

Several copies of furniture by Louis Majorelle, called ‘water lilies’, punctuate this sale, like this water lilies office desk from 1900-03. These water lily works demonstrate an abandonment of floral marquetry for the benefit of smooth lines. The furniture, supported by long ascending stems, gives an impression of dynamism, while its curves are accentuated by golden bronzes with water lilies.

Working with iron in his spare time, Majorelle also tackled the field of lighting. As a result of a collaboration with Daum Nancy, this plant chandelier is the incarnation of a period where technical innovations were put at the service of art, giving birth to the aesthetics of the École de Nancy. The virtuoso twisting movements of bronze bear witness to a quest for modernity, and the curved lines express the relationship to the nature of Art Nouveau.

The catalogue of Tajan’s 16 May sale highlights not only the creations of Majorelle, Émile Gallé and Daum Nancy, but also representatives of decorative arts of the 20th century, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean Royère or Paul Dupré-Lafon.

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