25 Feb 2018

Art Déco Showtime, Paris, 1925

The international design fair Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, was the catalyst for the most significant worldwide Art movement of the 20th century. The Expo was an acknowledgement, a coming of age, a culmination of form and function know-how into Art Déco. It gave it prominence and status, the lettres de noblesse it deserved. The fair was a resounding success with the general public, and yet at the same time it was criticised by artists and insiders for its somewhat elitist approach, for its ostentatious display of deluxe utopia, and ultimately for its disconnect from the reality of the world. Its wasteful character was panned too as the luxury pavilions hosting the show were only to be temporary structures, meant to be dismantled afterwards, not kept in-situ. Yet no expense was spared for the event: a frivolity, as post-war reconstruction was costing the nation a pretty penny and moods were still sombre from the destruction of war. There was though no better way to introduce Art Déco to the world than with a bang!

Porte d'Honneur, photography by Georges Buffotot.

The necessity of rebuilding cities, towns and villages was handled hand in hand with foresight in order to bring style into livelihoods. Thus modernism in its clean lines, in its avant-garde, optimistic, future-embracing approach, was elected. The brief was all about breaking away from previous styles while cultivating a strong personality. WWI had profoundly broken the West and there was a willingness to start afresh, to start anew and to give design one's best shot and inject awe, pride and a strong presence into it! This didn't just affect architecture. Art Déco spilled across the decorative arts and crafts, clothing fashion, automobile, graphic design, typography, product design and more.

Art Déco celebrated a renaissance:
the return of life after the sheer brutality of war.

The Art Déco phrase was coined right out of the Expo's name; Art Déco being short for Arts Décoratifs (Decorative/ Applied Arts). Finally the movement that had been organically spreading since after the war, and which was gathering momentum, had a name. A French name that would come to be recognised all over the world without the need to translate it into a different language. Now, almost a century later, the prospect of diving straight into the rare photographic testimonies of the Expo, laid out for us by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs itself, is pure delight for every Art Déco fan and historian!

Boutiques du Pont Alexandre III: Boutique No.26, Siegel.

Source: All photography via the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes dossier by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. (1) Porte d'Honneur, night time photography by Georges Buffotot, Fonds Edition Albert Lévy, inv. EAL-011. Photo distr. © Les Arts Décoratifs/ Editions Albert Lévy. (2) . (3) .

Master craftsman Edgar Brandt was involved in the construction of the Porte d'Honneur.

9 Jan 2018

Happy New Year from Yesteryear

As the New Year is kicking into gear, and our idea of the obligatory New You is following suit, it is all too tempting to map it out of Brand New Things as opposed to just New Things! Now hold on. How about turning back the clock, especially as far as those vintage French New Year fancy cards (a.k.a. mignonettes) are concerned?

Bonne Année (1908)

The design of those yesteryear cards bears more gusto and compulsion than today's watered-down/ minimalistic representations. Look at those freestyle calligraphic fonts embossed in gold dust and swathed in flowers, a call for Spring in the thick of Winter: how dainty and desirable are they!

Bonne Année (year unknown)

Picture the scene: you get ready for breakfast, check the post as coffee is percolating away, and bring back half a dozen of those adorable mignonettes from the letterbox to your kids and spouse. Open them together and relish on the sweet words sent out to your family by other loved ones, as you sip café au lait and munch on chocolatines. Rejoice in the knowledge that the senders are receivers too as they too are experiencing the tokens of family joy which you sent them. 

Happy New You, Y'All!

Bonne Année (1912)
Bonne Année (1909)
Bonne Année (1906)
Bonne Année (1908)

Source: Move over, eBay, the big boys are in town! Delcampe is the specialised ephemera auction site from Belgium that describes itself as the greatest marketplace for collectors, with a current offering of almost 80 million items from the world over - I kid you not!

Postcards (> 46.4 million items to choose from!), postage stamps (> 22.8 million!), books, magazines and comics (> 2.6 million), old papers (> 2.5 million, anything from autographs to invoices and lottery tickets!), numismatics (> 1.1 million!), and other collectibles (> 3 million, including photography, advertising and music). From the commonplace to the rare collector piece, from the affordable to the extravagant, from the dilettante à la Mirabelle to the serious hobbyist à la J. Paul Getty, Delcampe has it covered.

Bilingual, so why not? A Happy New Year (1908)

You may kickstart your collecting career with less than five dollars to spare, making you the proud owner of a 100-year-old greeting card (see above). Collecting has to start somewhere and it might as well start with those as the risk factor is close to nil. Note the strong use of symbology for love, luck, happiness, peace, eternity and prosperity: heart, four-leaf clover, horseshoe, lily of the valley, dove, forget-me-not and mistletoe. (1) Bonne Année greeting card from 1908. (2) Bonne Année greeting card (year unknown). (3) Bonne Année greeting card from 1912. (4) Bonne Année greeting card from 1909. (5) Bonne Année greeting card from 1906. (6) Bonne Année greeting card from 1908. (7) A Happy New Year greeting card from 1908. Cards (1) to (6) are still available to purchase.

31 Dec 2017

Happy New Year & Happy Sale

Happy New Year you all! Three Line Studio and TLB Games are extending their Christmas Special Sale! Some call it Christmas every day, we call it starting 2018 on a high note, especially if you have gamers in your circles! RPG (Role Playing Games), D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), game theory, we have it all covered for those special occasions in the year ahead! TLS is no random shop: it is the publishing house and agency of one of the original D&D members, American author and game designer Robert J. Kuntz!
🎄 🎄 🎄
You really want to check out our range of competitively-priced quality original products, you will not find them elsewhere!

Here is a short item selection:

El Raja Key Archive, NOW FROM ONLY $14.95
Dave Arneson's True Genius treatise, NOW ONLY $14.95
Sunken City adventure module, NOW ONLY $6.99

23 Dec 2017

Aynhoe Park's Cabinet of Curiosities

Oh, don't I love it when a blog visit sends me onto an unexpected journey with twists at every turn! Curiosity takes you places you hadn't heard or thought about!

Hui's wedding dress by Phillipa Lepley; wedding venue: Aynhoe Park.

It started off with The Londoner Rosie Thomas's customised wedding dress post, followed by her wedding designer Phillipa Lepley's portfolio, and then onto her client Hui's wedding venue: Aynhoe Park, Oxfordshire, England. But what could have easily been mistaken as yet another palladian country house, revealed a full-scale treasure trove of eclectic antique pieces, eccentric objets d'art and modern pieces that have blent together well into a potent cocktail and lent the place a distinct mood halfway between antiques shop, Natural History Museum and a well-travelled, well-heeled collector's cabinet of curiosities! And when I come across those, time crashes to a standstill. Exploration is a must!

The Aynhoe Unicorn: bold, brash and larger than life!
The Aynhoe Unicorn (detail), painting by Rico White, via A Modern Grand Tour

If history, the statuary, and unique quirky heirloom pieces are your thing, then you have it in spades here, and the little kid in you will awaken to those treasures. I must say that I am no fan of taxidermy and animal trophies in all their forms but if I summon the little kid in me convincingly enough, I might be able to work miracles, Night at the Museum style...

Look up, look down, the folly is all around! Photography by Barker Evans.

This is certainly a magical place that has the power to turn into a magical land of its own accord, depending upon how wild your imagination is and/ or with Santa's little tipple helpers! You are nudged on your journey: Aynhoe Park is interlaced with elements of fantasy (unicorns of all creatures!) and Narnia-esque elements raring to come to life and play!

White Witch Awakening, by Miss Aniela, surreal fashion series photoshoot (2014), via ibid.

Thus all that is needed is to believe and to let your imagination loose and soon enough the creatures will come to life and whisk you away into their dreamlike world! Step into the wardrobe, enjoy the party, Christmas is only a twinkle away!

Pair of Brass Waterlilies, via A Modern Grand Tour
The Ostrich Feather Lamp in 'Ivy', via  ibid.
Wooden Cobra Carved Sculpture, via ibid.
1970s Shell Table by Antony Redmile, via ibid.

* Last updated: 06-Jan-2018

Source: Have cash? Purchase a piece of the action and take the magic home. Or just leave it where it belongs, at Aynhoe, providing an enchantment piece to guests and visitors. Yet if you are serious about parting with a little cash and take home an investment piece that is both unique and eccentric, Aynhoe is destination shopping delight!

Aynhoe Park hosts hospitality events and weddings, which is another way of getting up close and personal with its magical wonderland!

25 Nov 2017

The Art Déco Redesign of Saint-Quentin

It is high time Mirabelle paid its dues to a northern French Art Déco town which holds a special place in my heart: my hometown of Saint-Quentin! A born-and-bred saint-quentinoise, I spent my formative years there. I moved away for college before returning briefly home (for three years), and then onto the next leg of my personal journey, the UK.

Most of my family still lives in Saint-Quentin. My parents relocated to Corsica ten years ago and I followed suit from the UK approx. three years later. When my dad left Saint-Quentin, he left his heart behind - and probably even his soul. I left bits of myself behind and fragments of my heart too. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all leave bits of ourselves behind whenever we up sticks.

Nouvelles Galeries, rue Saint-Jacques

We are ambivalent as to whether we should have moved away, whether we should have moved on with our lives. For my dad, this has proved virtually impossible after he was forced to sell our much-loved family home, a one-of-a-kind (unique) property whose elaborate construction and overall design he had been personally invested in every step of the way over the course of almost 35 years. A painstaking labour of love carved out of the best materials, using the best skillsets, that makes the house he lives in now a mockery (his words) if only in terms of architectural merit.

Mosaic ribbon (detail), rue de la Sous-Préfecture; another element of the façade is shown on pict. (12)

The irony of it all is that through our time in Saint-Quentin, none of us hardly took any photos of the town itself, none of us photographically recorded its beautiful, history-laden architectural heritage which was the background to our every day. A faux-pas which I reiterated in Manchester! So once again, I find myself reliant upon other people's photography in order to relate a part of my personal, intimate history.

Trade 'Commerce' medallion on a façade, rue de la Sellerie, carved out by French sculptor Raoul Josset

The moral of the story: do not take for granted the locale you live in. Pay attention to it, observe it, acknowledge it and immortalise it with your camera (or your paints and brushes or pencils).

Because this article just so happens to be a tale of ironies, the other irony is that while living in Saint-Quentin, we didn't pay much attention to its Art Déco architecture. We took note of the older (albeit rare) buildings that survived WWI ravages (and to a much lesser extent WWII ravages), namely the Basilique Saint-André (Basilica), Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), Palais de Fervaques (tribunal) and theatre, all of which were extensively renovated post-war. Scattered vestiges here and there also survived the war. In actual fact, roughly 70% of Saint-Quentin was destroyed by the Great War.

Criée Municipale frontage, place Gaspard de Coligny

Now prepare for some home truths in this tribute:

Art Déco architecture was such an element of our daily lives - we bathed in it - that we found it too mundane and ordinary, to be worthy of any value. We didn't notice its merit, nor did we recognise it formally as a component of the internationally-celebrated design movement. We appreciated it only for what it was: an architectural style that characterised our town (and other northern towns and villages) and made it functional, rather than functional, innovative and eye-pleasing. We did not sing its praise. Rather, it just happened to be there, a mere landscape to our lives.

Brochure, via Calaméo

In retrospect, I wish I had paid attention. I hear you suggest that I could return to Saint-Quentin to soak it all in and capture it but nostalgia, and generally the memory of loved ones gone, times gone and a way of life gone, have ways to make you sea-sick. And this is the pain I have interiorised. Maybe after all, we shouldn't have gone in the first place. Just stayed put. But is this what life is about? Stay put? Deprive yourself of brand new adventures?

Buffet de la Gare, train station restaurant mosaic
Forged iron and bevelled glass door (detail), rue Voltaire

Now let us be clear. To label Saint-Quentin as strictly an Art Déco town (as modern-day historians tend to do) is a fallacy. It deprives it of its rich, long and checkered history: founded by the Romans, sacked and looted by the Francs (in 406), then by Atilla the Hun (in 450), and later by the Barbarians (in 531). Not to mention other charming visitors like the Spanish conquistadores and the Prussians. Saint-Quentin's strategic location as a gateway to northern and Eastern Europe, made it a geopolitical hotspot and a battlefield, as well as an intersection point between paganism and christiandom.

The Casino cinema, built 1929, a flamboyant landmark

The prevailing Art Déco style across our northern town reflects the fact that 3/4 of its pre-WWI buildings had been blitzed out by war. Thus no expenses were spared when reconstruction came about. This coincided with the flourishing movement of the time, Art Déco, using a variety of materials (brick, stone, slate, marble, granite, mosaics, stained glass, enamel, concrete, plaster, forged iron, stainless steel, bronze, brass, copper, lead, wood) and a palette of techniques that heralded the new and the bold while grounding it into a solid classical approach in terms of proportions, perspective, materials and general elegance. The constructions were made to last the distance in terms of both appeal and quality, not be demolished on a whim within a couple of generations.

Architectural firms from Paris, Lille or closer delighted in the prospect of showcasing their know-how, and add quirky touches as they came up with residential, commercial, institutional and industrial premises, not to mention train stations, churches and war memorials, that lived up to their name, reputation and promises.

Art Déco translated the wave of post-war optimism into a movement. No solemnity to it, only a hymn to joy and oppulence meant to affect everyone positively, if only by way of a little architectural beautification, whatever came to play to perk up a nation raw from the horrors of the Great War.

Over several years, in certain cases to the dawn of WWII (or beyond for churches), the reconstruction of France and other war-torn nations was akin to a beehive of ingeniosity writing the book of 20th century design and paving the way for the mid-century modern of later years. Artisans and craftsmen were an integral part of the workforce, hence process. My great grandad, Joseph, a carpenter by trade, travelled all the way from Brittany to Saint-quentin with his family in order to provide his sought-after skills to the building trade.

After all, mass-consumerism hadn't quite cut its teeth into society just yet. France was still being built up out of wares that had been made in France! There was this fierce, strong sense of belonging and the Nation State. Personalisation, customisation and innovation played an important part in Art Déco craftsmanship. The result was an architectural equivalent of fashion haute couture or a quality off-the-peg piece, rather than ready-made, pre-assembled ensembles churned out on an industrial scale. Ironwork was hot off the local forge, not off Home Depot.

Relief grapevine tiling on a façade, exact property location unknown (Champs-Elysées area?)

All these elements fuse together into lessons in contemporary design and late neo-classicism that many a modern-day architect worth their salt should embrace rather than run from or deride. I cannot bear to think what our towns and cities would look like if they were being rebuilt today, under this post-industrial, post-craftsmanship styleless, paradigm of using cheap and cheerful one-size-fits-all Far-East imports that line up the shelves of DIY chain stores. I can all too painfully notice its ravages at a local level (in Corsica), the breeze block-plasterboard-PVC residential combos with their utterly charmless personality-devoid utilitarian Soviet finished look. Life is meant to be celebrated, not mourned, which is why Art Déco should make us thankful. Rejoice, people, rejoice!

Entrance, rue de la Sous-Préfecture; another element of the façade is shown on pict. (3)

Sources: Art Déco knows no blandness. Art Déco as a movement created bold, awe-inspiring, sculptural statements. Think the Chrysler Building! Made up of bold, aerodynamic, streamlined curves, abstract patterns and geometric florals and feathers, it is made to be embraced from a distance and appreciated up close. A celebrated duo of form and function that epitomises good design and relishes both its clean lines and intricate vignettes and frescoes. Born just after WWI, the artistic and architectural movement swept across the world and span across the Roaring Twenties and Depression Era.

(1-3) Built in 1922, the Nouvelles Galeries retail store has been disused for about 50 years. It has nonetheless kept any visitor spellbound to this day. While awaiting an hypothetical renaissance, the site has found its vocation as an exhibition hall for... Art Déco exhibitions! (1) Photography by Julien Sarrazin, via On Teste Pour Vous en Picardie. (2) Photography. (3) Photography.  (4-5) L'Art Déco à Saint-Quentin, photography by Jean Triboulloy and Michèle Wojciechowski. (4) Mosaic ribbon (detail) fringing the façade of a much-photographed Art Déco maison bourgeoise residential property, located next to the sous-préfecture. Its panelled glass and ironwork door is shown further down the article, cf. (12). (5) 'Commerce' trade medallion on a façade, rue de la Sellerie, carved out by French sculptor Raoul Josset. Interestingly the prolific sculptor moved to the USA to pursue his craft under the Art Déco influence; he created larger-than-life statues in his adopted state of Texas. (6) Criée Municipale, unattributed photography via Nicole Boxberger. It features a concrete curved one-storey building that used to host the municipal fish market auctions. I remember it operating until at least 20 years ago. Under the town hall's Art Déco preservation and renovation programme which provides incentives and professional advice to eligible property owners from both the public and private sectors, the Criée was renovated. Its lettering, which used to be a tomato red on cream, has now been given a flattering blue floral treatment that lends panache and a little relief to the signage. The neat Art Déco typeface is pure typographical delight! (7) Art Déco has taken centerstage in Saint-Quentin only recently, over the last 25 years. Prior to that, the movement might have been perceived as being still too new in order to deserve critical acknowledgement and acclaim from local historians, the local authorities and the local population alike.

Tin plaque, Restaurant des Champs-Elysées, rue de Baudreuil

Further Resources:

A yearly celebration of Art Déco in Saint-Quentin


* The acute accent on the letter 'e' of Art Déco is my deliberate attempt at translating the fact that the Art Déco movement originated from France. It derives its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in 1925 in Paris, an event which came to be known as a catalyst of the Art Déco movement.

* Last updated 25-Feb-2018.

18 Nov 2017

Investment Pieces for the Home: Rose Uniacke

If money is no object and the object of our affection is an interior exuding European old money grandeur, a trip to Rose Uniacke's furniture showroom and interior design studio in Pimlico, London, beckons. The interiors' Queen of Serene will help you make it happen and morph your dream home into a reality.

Rose's credentials are rock-solid and her offering a one-stop shop. Her knowledge base as both an interior and product designer, in addition to her understanding of family-friendly, functional, cosy personable interiors, combine with her invaluable experience as an antiques dealer, fabric designer, gilder, paint and lacquer specialist and furniture restorer, her respect for the history and style of the buildings they sit within, the importance of sensible renovation involving the cream of craftsmen and experts in order to turn the house into a workable and lovable space with its integrity of character, and the carefully-curated heirloom objects that weave a fine balance of form and function into the canvas of the property. 

Rose translates her clients's wishes and expectations into homes that intimately fit their personality: homes that are an extension of who they are. Her client base includes household names such as David and Victoria Beckham and perfume maestro Jo Malone, should you care to know. As may be judged from her portfolio, Rose is used to juggling £multi-million property renovation contracts, without compromising on craftsmanship or style. Cleverly mixing the old and the new in a balancing act only she knows how will usher you to the past without nostalgia while by the same token keep you in the present with a well-honed sense of history. Your home is in safe hands with Rose Uniacke and her team.

Arts & Crafts Repoussé Lantern, England, c.1900 (£2,700/ $3,569)

Now here is my shortlist of unique pieces which no home with a healthy cashflow should be without. I do admit the prices are extravagant but do not let this hold you back if you are prepared for style no matter the cost! Bear in mind the pieces are bold, unique and in good condition.

Source: (1-5) Rose Uniacke's Pimlico home is a pared-down affair that peeled off the layers of successive conversions to its bare walls, complete with restored plasterwork and mouldings. The 19th century property was originally a professional artist’s combined studio, gallery and private residence. It was later converted into a smaller residence flanked by four apartments. Rose reverted it back to a family home, complete with wine cellar and interior courtyard plus the modern conveniences of home cinema, spa and pool - without betraying the essence of the building. In such a setting, heirloom pieces like the (3) 19th century waterfall chandelier (attributed to the Spanish Royal Glassworks), effortlessly come to life. More photography from the Vogue slideshow and article (March 2017), photography by François Halard. (6-8) Antique items available to purchase from the Rose Uniacke online shop. (6) The Arts & Crafts Repoussé Lantern (£2,700/ $3,568.60) will add some Gaudí-esque brass drama to the entrance lobby. (7) The Large French Ormolu Alabaster Hanging Light stands out in style and price, a cool £12,000/ $15,860. The original ormolu bronze includes the foliate mounts and canopy; the veined alabaster dish will bathe your sitting-room in flattering soft indirect lighting. (8) Recently reduced in price, the Finely Cast Victorian Brass Table Lamp by George Smith is almost a snip at £1,100/ $1,454. (9) Note the original three lion-paw feet on a tripod plinth supporting the fluted column.

Large French ormolu alabaster Hanging Light, France, late 19th century (£12,000/ $15,860)
Finely Cast Victorian Brass Table Lamp by George Smith, England, c.1850 (£1,100/ $1,454)
Close-up of the lion-paw feet on a tripod plinth

15 Nov 2017

Bug Life

For a piece of visual entomology, look no further than Alex Wild Photography! Mirabelle has been following Alex's Twitter account for years now and this is one of my favourites: a Twitter perk that stands out from the Twitter mush!

There you get close with the bugs and once you magnify and get to their level, discover the beasts of engineering that they are: fascinating, awesome and pretty darn scary too!

Calliphora augur, Diamond Creek, Victoria, Australia

Myrmecia pyriformis, Yandoit, Victoria, Australia

Nesomyrmex wilda, Harlingen, Texas, USA

Nasute termite soldier, Yandoit, Victoria, Australia

Pogonomyrmex comanche, Red Rock, Texas, USA

Apis mellifera, Austin, Texas

The macro-photographic skillset of Texas-based American biologist Alex Wild plays its magic and his carefully-chosen
subjects are equally magical. The descriptives bear none of the generalist attributes that non-scientists like myself are guilty of using all too often when faced with unidentified small creatures: critters, bugs, insects, creepy-crawlies, flying things (ha-ha!) and other often-erroneous and somewhat disrespectful captions.

Here we dive deep into entomology territory, the taxa, order, genus, species and sub-species, and catch ourselves on a learning curve if we are serious enough about the views we entertain. This is how I found out, as a starting point, that myrmecology is the entomology branch related to ants.

When faced with the ingeniosity of life at its tiniest level, you cannot help but think about the Great Architect of the Universe and how none of this would have been possible without Him at the helm. Without politicising this post, I would venture the belief that atheists are deniers of God when you witness how the divine has engineered nature in a way that is humanely impossible to achieve.

Anastatus sp., Austin, Texas, USA

Ceratopogonidae forcipomyia, Cayó District, Belize

Hesperolabops gelastops, Austin Texas, USA

Tutelina elegans (male), Urbana, Illinois, USA

Chrysina lecontei, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona, USA
Tetragonisca angustula, Morretes, Paraná, Brazil

Alex Wild has managed to build a captive audience out of science proselytes like myself, and the macro-photographic journey amongst creatures of the tiny order is both captivating and humbling!

Source: All photography by Alex Wild Photography.
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