Art Nouveau Prints by Emile Belet
Seaweed and Marine Life

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Belet Belet
Belet Belet
Belet Belet
Emile Belet (after)
E. le Deley (heliotype printer)
Prints of Underwater Vegetation and Other Marine Life
from La Vegetation Sous-Marine [Underwater Vegetation]
Armand Guérinet, 140 Faubourc Saint-Martin, Paris: 1900
Heliotypes
13.5 x 9 inches image
15.75 x 11.5 inches overall
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This set of prints incorporates seaweed with other marine imagery into innovative, elaborate, Art Nouveau designs, ranging from fairly naturalistic compositions to designs for decorative arts objects and motifs abstracted from seaweed forms.  Belet’s stated intention in the introduction to this work was to draw attention to the underappreciated artistic possibilities of seaweed, with its variety of forms and “rich, sometimes dazzling colors.”  The sinuous lines and incorporation of naturalistic motifs are typical of Art Nouveau, though other Victorian stylistic influences are also present.  In addition to seaweed, Belet incorporates fish, crabs, shrimp, and shells.  A numbered key in the final plate identifies various sealife used throughout the work and in which plates they are illustrated. 

Emile Belet was an Art Nouveau painter and designer, and is identified on the title page of La Végétation Sous-Marine as a ceramist from the national factory at Sèvres, France’s leading manufacturer of fine ceramics and porcelain.   This further supports the proposition that this and like works were intended in part for designers of ceramics.   In addition to the aforementioned work published by Guerinet, he also authored and illustrated a collection of designs for Sévres porcelain, Modèles & documents modernes pour la (porcelaine), la bijouterie et les arts appliqués (1900).

Excerpt from the introduction by Belet (with our translation):

“Mais si dans l’oeuvre de la nature les algues offrent à la science un vaste champ d’étude ces végétaux apportent également a l’art et aux artistes, un contingent precieux d’éléments decoratifs presque ignoré. Choisis dans l’ immense variété des algues sous marines, nous n’avons reproduit en cet ouvrage, que les types bien caracterisés offrant un interet artistique special, soit par leur organization leurs formes ou leurs couleurs. Présenté sous une forme decorative, cet ouvrage sera certainement accueilli avec faveur, ayant tenu avant tout a reproduire scrupuleusement le dessin de ces végétaux, et la richesse de leurs couleurs quelque fois éclatantes.”

“…But if within the works of nature the seaweeds offer to science a vast field of study, these vegetations supply as well to art and to artists a valuable array of decorative elements, all but ignored.  Chosen from the immense variety of underwater seaweeds, we have reproduced in this work only the characteristic types of special artistic interest, because of their arrangement of forms or their colors.  Presented in a decorative format, this work will certainly be favorably received, our having promised above all to scrupulously reproduce the design of these plants and the richness of their sometimes dazzling colors.”

Collections of prints like these were popular at the turn of the century, providing source material for designers of fabrics, wallpaper, ceramics, book illustrations, posters, and advertisements.  The leading Victorian publication of this type was Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament, first issued in a folio edition in London in 1856.  Other trendsetting styles in art, design, decoration and fashion came from Paris.  The best know are probably the works by Émile-Alain Séguy incorporating butterfly and insect motifs, and those by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a professor of zoology, at the University of Jena, Germany.  Haeckel’s scientific illustrations depicted aquatic organisms such as radiolarians, jellyfish, sea urchins and so forth in flowing, aesthetically striking compositions, such as were included in his work Kunstformen der Natur [Art Forms in Nature] (1899-1904).  Other prolific publishers of this type of work were Anton Seder, Armand Guérinet and Arsène Herbinier.  Closely related to Seder’s renditions of aquatic motifs were the designs of Emile Belet.  Indeed, various works by Séguy, Herbinier and Belet appeared together in a collection of color plates published in 1900 by Guerinet titled Peinture d’Art Nouveau, 3e série.    In the summer of 2004, the Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) exhibited a print by Herbinier in a similar style, also published by A. Guérinet, from a collection called Frises, bordures, panneaux au pochoir [Friezes, borders, and panels in pochoir].

Credits on the bottom of each plate: “Ar. Guerinet Editeur 140 Faubourg Saint-Martin, Paris. Heliotypic E. Le Deley, 73, Rue Claude Bernard, Paris.”

References:

“Beaux Arts Appliqués, Architecture et Histoire.”  Antiques World Belgium.  http://www.awb.be/auctions/sadeleer/catal1.html (11 March 2005).

“The Art of Pattern, Line and Design.”  The Artful Line: Drawings & Prints from FIT’s Special Collections of the Gladys Marcus Library.  (image upper right) http://www3.fitnyc.edu/museum/artful_line/pattern.htm (9 December 2004).

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