Paris: Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, 1904. First Edition. Folio (385 x 295 mm). Title-page (color collotype) + 50 color collotype plates after original photographs. Loose as issued in original cloth-backed illustrated boards (soiled, very worn and partially defective), three pair of cloth ties, all present. Title-page with original ownership stamp crossed out; some plates faintly soiled / worn along edges, not egregious, and certainly not affecting images or caption titles. Bookplate inside front board: "Ex libris Gaston Heliot." Preserved in a protective cloth case. Very good. Item #2754
Complete set of fifty design masterpieces by M.P. Verneuil, of great significance in the history of art history for indicating the logical transition from Art Nouveau forms to Art Deco repetition, the initial development credited largely to Verneuil himself. The hues of the color collotype photographs are eerily beautiful. The "Decor Floral" portfolio was issued for artists and designers, and is distinguished the meticulous arrangement of actual flowers, leaves, vines, and grasses, beautifully photographed and printed in soft, pale colors. The floral designs merge into ornamental friezes, pilaster columns, carpets, cornices, and mirrors, and MUST BE SEEN to be fully appreciated. Surely the present portfolio is one of the earliest expressions of what was to be called Art Deco. It was created by M.P. Verneuil (1869-1942), a famous designer who literally wrote the first book on the subject of Art Deco, namely in his "Etoffes et Tapis Etrangers" (1925) which documented - and championed - the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, from which the very term "Art Deco" takes its name. Verneuil's designs covered both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, subsequently transitioning into his much acclaimed, almost dizzying geometric patterns that found their wildest expression in his "Kaleidoscope, ornaments abstraits" (ca. 1923).
What makes the present portfolio so special is the austere elegance of the color collotypes, and the geometrical arrangements of the flowers and plants (all of which are named in the captions). It is a remarkable fact that our portfolio preceded by 25 years Karl Blossfeldt's first published effort, the great "Urformen der Kunst," which did not appear until 1928.
The success of Verneuil's "Le Decor Floral" is due to the sensitive presentation and composition, relying on the symmetry juxtaposed with asymmetry; repetition of the motifs; and a certain formal purity. Highlighted are the lines and the graphic qualities of the flowers and plants, which include chrysanthemums, ferns, irises, wild gladiolas, mistletoe, holly, sapwood, laurels, wheat, violets, begonias, ivy, maple leaves, lily-of-the-valley, lemons, and much more. The result is the clearest rendition of the decorative potential of actual plant specimens. "Le Decor Floral" celebrates not only the shapes of nature, but man's ability shape Nature itself in the pursuit of aesthetic beauty.
Whereas Verneuil's name does not appear on the portfolio's cover or title, there is no longer any doubt that this is his work. We have discovered in the 1903 Mercure de France (vol. VIII, pp. 514-515) the following announcement concerning the forthcoming publication of "Le Decor Floral" (here translated): La Librairie centrale des Beaux-Arts, which M. Levy directs with a keen sense the needs and trends of modern art, is publishing a series of documents of decorative flora, chosen by M. VERNEUIL [emphasis ours], and photographed from nature. The "Decor Floral," which will be published in instalments of ten plates, will form a complete volume in fifty plates and will be of the greatest utility to all decorators. It is a kind of herbarium that is easy to handle and whose advantage is to provide the artist, in a more durable and less fragile way than dried plants, exact documents not only as to the form, but also as for the color" (unsigned but written by Yvanhoe Rambosson).
Another pre-publication description of the book is given in Bernard Quaritch's Catalogue 234, p. 121 (immediately above Verneuil's "Etude de la Plante: Son Application aux Industries d'Art," 1903) which we here translate from the French: "As its title indicates, this book is a collection of ornamental documents from nature, whose sole source is the vegetable kingdom. Is it not that the decorative arts of every era have taken their best inspiration? The interest of this book is twofold. To industrialists (sic), the work provides many decorative compositions that can be used as is, or can receive an even more ornamental application. Decorative panels, shaded borders, ornate backgrounds or spandrels, friezes or foliage, are all available herein, offering the most diverse compositions. To artists, the work furnishes numerous and excellent documents on the flower itself, the compositions being ornamentally variegated without modification, but always with the specter of its own constitution. The work serves to inspire variations on decorative compositions. It will be useful to all floral arrangers -- and who are they who do not use flowers? This work, important as much by the number of ornamental documents as by the number of the various plants represented, will contain 50 plates, and the color will add to its charm and to the precision of the documentation."
Attention is drawing to an earlier photographic design portfolio by Martin Gerlach, whose "Festons und decorative Gruppen nebst einem Zieralphabet" appeared in Vienna in 1893. In our opinion Gerlach's work is considerably inferior to Verneuil's "Decor Floral": the placement of the flora (and fauna) is boring, and the color hues average. It is likely - if not certain - that Verneuil knew of Gerlach's work, having visited Vienna in 1902. Gerlach published another similar design portfolio at this time, namely the "Formenwelt aus dem Naturreiche" (1902-1904). Verneuil is not known to have undertaken photographic work, but in any event the real artistry of the "Decor Floral" is his and his alone. Witness the discernment of the botanical selections and their exquisite arrangement in the nascent Art Deco style, which he innovated.
The Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, one of the preeminent publishers of art portfolios at this time, European and otherwise, recongized Verneuil's genius, and issued some of his most significant works (e.g. "L'Animal dans la décoration," 1898 and "Etude de la plante," 1908). The firm also published important design portfolios by Alfons Mucha and Eugene Grasset, who was Verneuil's mentor.
REFERENCES: Helen Bieri Thomson, Maurice Pillard-Verneuil, p. 118. P. Forestier, Photographie florale et arts decoratifs dans la IIe moitie du XIXe siecle, in: Histoire de l'art 33/34, pp. 38 et seq.