In Nancy, in north-eastern France, renovation work has recently completed on the Villa Majorelle, one of the best surviving Gesamtkunstwerke of the entire period. The villa was built in 1901–02 for the furniture maker Louis Majorelle, and was designed by the architect Henri Sauvage, who began work on this, his first building, at the age of just 26. The villa is highly experimental, bursting with ideas straining to hold themselves together. An anti-classical composition, slightly gothic, slightly romanesque, sits under steep pitched roofs, and erupts with florid ironwork and detailing, with clusters of unrelated forms occurring across an otherwise smoothly cut limestone facade.
Majorelle intended for the house to be a showcase for his own work, and richly ornamental organic joinery abounds, from the swooping staircase, its balusters wrestling free from a whorl of ivy, to the intricate and ornate inlay work running across many surfaces. Other artists contributing to the ensemble include the painters Francis Jourdain and Henri Royer, who provided colouristic friezes to various rooms, and the stained-glass artist Jacques Gruber. Most notably, Sauvage involved the ceramic artist Alexandre Bigot, who in the middle of the dining room created a frankly terrifying fireplace, like a monstrous creature tearing through the fabric of an otherwise respectable home.
Indeed, the villa was a domestic house for only a short while and after Majorelle died in 1926 his son, the painter Jacques Majorelle, sold it to the state, who used it as offices over the years. Although the grounds would be sold off, it was kept largely intact, making the recent €3.5m restoration to bring it back to full public view somewhat less arduous. The works largely involve returning the building as close as possible to its domestic state, while avoiding too much historical licence; they range from removing a bay window that had closed off the original terrace to recovering layers of wallpaper and paint that had been covered for generations.
Source: Douglas Murphy