In 1871 Nancy saw an influx of artists, industrialists, investors and patrons of the arts who had fled the regions annexed by the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war. These new arrivals joined with likeminded locals to form a talented group of artists, architects and designers, including Emile Gallé, Louis Majorelle, Victor Prouvé, the Daum brothers, Jacques Gruber, Emile André, Lucien Weissenburger and many others, producing original and highly creative work using motifs inspired by the local flora. They were also committed to political and social reform. In 1901, Emile Gallé and a group of friends, fellow-artists and competitors founded the ‘Alliance provincial des industries d’art’, better known as the ‘Ecole de Nancy’ (Nancy School).
The arts and crafts industry
The members of the Nancy School saw themselves as both artists and industrialists, and believed in ‘art in all, art for all’. They not only produced unique and exceptional pieces in small quantities, but whenever possible they adapted their objects (using simpler lines, materials and techniques) so that they could be mass-produced at a lower cost and be made more widely available.
Motifs inspired by nature are found everywhere – in their architectural designs, furniture and glassware. Louis Majorelle carved the words ‘Ma racine est au fond des bois’ (My roots are in the heart of the woods) on the door of Emile Gallé’s workshop (it’s now displayed in the garden of the Museum of the Nancy School).
A trained botanist and the founder of the Nancy School, Emile Gallé drew much of his inspiration from nature. He planted a garden under the windows of his workshop, La Garenne, so that the workers could ‘check the accuracy of their lines’. Antonin Daum, on the other hand, gave a freer rein to his imagination.
The artists of the Nancy School were also strongly influenced by Japonism. Drawing on the same sources of inspiration as Japanese artists – Japan was then only just opening up to the west – the artists of the Nancy School produced many masterpieces with a Far-Eastern aesthetic. This helps to explain the Japanese public’s keen interest in Nancy’s art nouveau movement (Nancy is very popular with Japanese visitors!).
Art nouveau movements emerged in different countries around 1880, but the force and boldness of the Nancy School and the personalities of its artists put Nancy alongside Paris and Brussels as one of the flagship cities of the movement right from the early 20th century. In Nancy, the elegant art nouveau curves are very much part of the city’s architecture and this heritage, together with the Museum of the Nancy School, has been carefully preserved. Nancy is a member of the international ‘Art Nouveau Network’ of art nouveau cities, created in 1999 to promote this remarkable heritage, and is one of the cities on the Art Nouveau Cultural Route. Nancy is a real art nouveau experience – don’t miss it!
Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy (Museum of the Nancy School)
The only museum in the world devoted entirely to a unique art movement! Attracting visitors from all over the world, the museum, which opened in 1963, is housed in the property of Eugène Corbin, patron and promoter of the Nancy School in the early 20th century. An impressive collection of furniture and decorative objects, featuring some outstanding pieces, is displayed in an art nouveau interior setting, and the museum also has a magnificent collection of Emile Gallé glass. Not to mention the enchanted and enchanting garden!
- The diversity of techniques mastered by the artists of the Nancy School is equalled only by their talent. The collections include furniture, objets d’art, glassware, enamel, leather, ceramics and textiles.
- The museum aims to recreate the atmosphere of the art nouveau period. The Masson dining room, designed by Eugène Vallin, is displayed almost in its entirety. Don’t miss the famous ‘Aube et crépuscule’ (Dawn and dusk) bed and the extraordinary King Solomon’s amphora, designed by Emile Gallé at the height of the Dreyfus Affair.
- On the ground floor, a fine collection of Gallé’s glass work illustrates the technical prowess of this master glassmaker and the naturalist inspiration of the Nancy School.
The museum garden and aquarium
The garden has been designed to reflect an early 20th-century atmosphere, and there are several interesting features including a listed ‘aquarium’, a door originally designed for Emile Gallé’s workshop, and a funerary monument.
Take a look at the unusual ‘aquarium’. Around 1904, Eugène Corbin, patron of the Nancy School, and owner of the house, which was his weekend residence, commissioned architect Lucien Weissenburger to build a circular pavilion – a sort of 18th-century folly – to house an aquarium. Note the Japanese influence reflected in its umbrella-shaped roof. The stained glass on the door and transom windows is the work of Jacques Gruber. The pavilion was designed to house an aquarium, and the fish could be viewed from the ground floor. It is only open to the public on rare occasions, but the exterior alone is worth a visit!