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“The Most Passionate of All”


Henri Vever and Japonisme in fin-de-siècle France


Willa Z. Silverman

Known primarily as a jeweler in the vanguard of Art nouveau and an important collector of the Impressionists, Henri Vever (1854-1942), as his private diaries make clear, was also a foremost connoisseur of Japanese art in fin-de-siècle France, “the most passionate of all,” to Edmond de Goncourt. Well-connected to networks of dealers, museum officials, publications, and sites of sociability such as the dîners japonais, Vever figures among the most prominent members of a second wave of Parisian enthusiasts of Japanese art, active from approximately 1880 to 1900. Under the tutelage of the Japanese art dealers Hayashi Tadamasa and Siegfried Bing and the fine art printer Charles Gillot, Vever constituted a renowned collection of not only Japanese prints but also other art objects previously disregarded by collectors. Vever’s multiple and intersecting identities as luxury craft producer, leading member of professional associations, art historian and critic, collector, and Republican mayor placed him at the forefront of efforts to legitimate the collection and appreciation of Japanese art in France. His diaries also underscore the connections between the worlds of Japanese and Impressionist art collectors, and between proponents of japonisme and Art nouveau. Further, they highlight the importance of the 1900 Paris Exposition universelle as a triumphant moment for japonisme in France, just as they signal the shift on the part of some japonisants, at the same time, from Japanese art towards the decorative arts of the Islamic world.


Willa Z. Silverman

Abstract

The private diaries written between 1898 and 1901 by the French jeweler, art collector, and bibliophile Henri Vever (1854-1942) provide fresh evidence about how important late-nineteenth century esthetic ‘languages’ (japonisme, Symbolism, Art Nouveau) were appropriated by artists committed to renewing the decorative arts; the diaries also address the meaning and status of books. For Vever, his extensive collection of Japanese pattern albums served, above all, a utilitarian function, as design primers and sources of information about printing and engraving techniques for craft modernizers. At the same time, included in the physical space of his ‘Japanese library’ and in line with Symbolist esthetics, Japanese books were, to Vever, suggestive bibelots, whose evocative powers were enhanced through inclusion in harmonious decors. Vever’s experiments in Art Nouveau book design, finally, reveal his additional conception of the book as both surface to be decorated and space of artistic collaboration underscoring the equality of all arts.