Decorative Sketches republishes a 1902 collection of 60 plates from Esquisses Decoratives, a French publication, on the designs of Rene Binet. The forward has been translated from the original French and is nearly inscrutable (and surprisingly risible) in its fin de siecle pomposity.
The plates are in color, though only a few are multi colored (most have a paper-bronze color tone). The interesting aspect is that Binet (famous at the time for creating the highly detailed 1900 World’s Fair Monumental Door in Concorde Square, Paris) drew upon microscope ‘slices’ as his inspiration. The blurb in the back of the book about nature is somewhat misleading: Binet used the repeating patterns and intricate cell structures of plant and animal dissection to create very intricate designs that often feel very ‘busy’ but also otherworldly. So although this is at the height of the art nouveau period, his designs feel almost Arabic-inspired in their geometric precision. There are no people and interspersed in the cellur patterns are a lot of random elements such as acanthus leaves or parakeets.
Imagine slices of items such insect wings, sea sponges, coral, and other repeating pattern motifs and you get the idea – this isn’t about flowing nouveau lines so much as an exploration of microscopic nature. For most of the designs, it was hard to determine what to look at because there was so much going on and in very small relief/detail. Oddly enough, leopards were randomly thrown on top of a lot of the designs – creating a bit of a disparity between microscrope designs and whole animals. Many of the designs didn’t even feel art nouveau at all.
Binet’s designs were definitely unique and I imagine their complicated nature made them very hard to replicate in reality. But as always, I am grateful for Dover republishing these fascinating historical plate collections. Binet’s nouveau was definitely original for his time and worth the exploration. As well, the pompous introduction was good for a chuckle and perhaps even a slight snicker at viewpoints from a very different time. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.