Saturday, October 30, 2010

Symbolist Lighting: Gallé's Elusive Chauve-Souris Lamp

In honor of Halloween I thought I would write about a personal macabre favorite from decorative art history. Most people familiar with the 19th century French glass artist Emile Gallé know him primarily for his floral cameo glass vases which appear season after season at auction seemingly without end. Most are part of his more commercial production however there are a small group of the artist's works that reflect his deep interest in the natural world and ties to the Symbolist Art movement.
Portrait of Emile Gallé by Victor Prouvé ca. 1892

Enter the Lampe Chauve Souris or bat Lamp.
Gallé Bat Lamp: sold Sotheby's NY, 12/6/02 ($77,625)

The look is at once decadent, perhaps sinister but captures the artistic sensibilities of fin-de-siecle France. Gallé was captivated by the natural world and his attachment to Symbolist poets like the notoriously eccentric Count Robert de Montesquiou is clearly evoked in this lamp. The work itself is not really about function but more about creating a mood, cloaking the scientific austerity of modern technology in the rich orange-amber glow of a night sky with occult overtones.
Gallé Bat Lamp: sold Christie's London, 5/4/07 ($119,160)

Very few of these lamps were produced owing to their subject matter and thus a scant handful are known to us today. This rarity of course affects the price. The two versions above are fairly similar and were on the market in the past decade. I for one am eager to see the larger version of this model in the flesh as the last known example has not been seen since it was on the block at Sotheby's in 1978 (see below).

The base is highly realized Art Nouveau without being excessive and is not as rigid as the other examples. The theme is essentially the same but the base adds another layer with its eerily creeping poppy pod. Gallé is clearly referencing the opium poppy's ancient associations with sleep, intoxication and death. The lamp is the perfect manifestation of late 19th century decadence but done in an intelligently fluid manner. Some may find it dark and creepy but it is an unabashed personal favorite... Happy haunting.

1 comment:

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