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Decorative Arts

art, ing, examples, decoration, styles, style, effect, article and furniture

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DECORATIVE ARTS, Minor. Called in former days, frequently, °minor As the term implies, the decorative arts are those which are called into play in giving an ornamental ap pearance to articles of utility. In the practice of the decorative arts the essential feature al ways to be borne in mind is that the decoration is subsidiary to utility. The article itself must not, in its decoration, become less fitted for its purpose, else the article becomes an ornament. The basic form of the article decorated must not be modified sufficiently as to hide its purpose. The decorative arts have the function of beautify ing; they hide the nakedness of a plain surface, or break the cold regularity of a plain outline. But such embellishments are not brought about by covering (overloading) the available space, crowding of ornamentation being a vulgarity not art. If we take, as an illustration, the structure of a chair, the appearance of cumbersomeness may be eliminated for artistic effect by reducing the woodwork to smaller proportions, or round ing off the square edges, thereby creating a decorative effect of lightness. Or the back and legs of a chair may be given decorative curves to avoid angularity. But the tapering or re duced proportions must be so calculated as in no wise to encroach on the necessary strength of thejoints or other parts of the structure where the lateral or vertical strain is imposed. In jewelry, as another example, a brooch that is to be worn on delicate or flimsy textiles must have no sharp projecting points which will tear or tangle the textile. Another canon in the teachings of the arts of decoration is that of the adaptability of the decorative treatment to the medium operated on. Thus, with the pass ing of the °Gothic' period in the tapestry weaves, wonderful imitations of °painting' ef fects were aimed at by the use of thousands of color tones of yarn. The painted picture was simulated, but the lovely woven effect of tapes try was sacrificed, much to the detriment of the decorative art value. The greatest masters in the decorative arts were, incomparably, the ancient Greeks. Their utensils had marvelous beauty of form, but the form was ever con trolled to bring out perfection of the practical usefulness of the object for the purpose de sired. The surface decoration never was allowed to interfere with its usage; and the decorative °values° were always subjected to the size and shape of the spaces embellished. The asymmetric disposition of their ornament alike with that of the Japanese kakiemon style (see JAPANESE CERAMICS) are admirable expo sitions of decorative art treatment in perfection. Some of the spheres in which the decorative arts find application are ceramics, enamels, lacquers, arms and armor, woodwork, embroid ery, bronzes, engravings, textiles, ironwork, jade and other stone carving, furniture, bookbinding, glass, silversmithing, goldsmithing, rugs, ivories, clocks, locksmithing, mosaics, manuscripts, laces, numismatics, etc. When the Italian Renaissance

(16th century) brought its influence to bear on furniture and household utensils the vogue became so forceful that the existing pieces of decorative art work were not only discarded but largely destroyed. With the more grandiose ideas of the French under Louis XIV much of the refined furnishings of royalty and nobility was destroyed or set aside to decay. When the great changes in style of the Regency and Louis XV came about we get the same discard ing and destruction of the former art pieces. But soon the Revolution arrived with destructive tendencies entirely void of reconstruction. And the danger of entire loss of the art examples of the past became apparent to a few connois seurs. David, in supreme power in all art mat ters early in the 19th century, had no respect for anything but misrepresentations of the antique then being produced and offered no pro tection for true art works. These connoisseurs, in order to aid the survival of some of the beautiful work of the past, began collecting the remnants of the styles, examples of which were rapidly disappearing. Of such were Alexandre Lenoir, ViVant-Denon (Director of Museums under the Empire) ; Charles Sauvageot and du Sommerard, who made great collections for the propaganda; Villemin, about 1806, began publishing the great work (Monuments f ran cais inedits,) recalling by illustrations the art beauties of other styles. Revoil assisted in the work. Other art publications helped to place the "pseudo-classic° style of the Empire back in its inferior rank. The hunt for examples of the past art styles became quite popular and such pieces were disclosed in sacristies, garrets, or put to most vulgar uses by the lower classes, given to children to play with, etc. The work of the amateur collector of "period° furniture and "bric-a-brac° became popular with the wealthy in the days of the "Restauration.° Noted among these were such connoisseurs as Car rand, de Fondales, de Monville, d'Ivry, Brunet Denon, Durand, Fierard, Debruge, Dumenil, Renesse-Breidbach, etc. In 1832 Du Som merard's great collection was taken to the old Cluny Hotel (Paris) to become the decorative arts museum visited by the world's artisans for study. The French government, in 1843, pur chased the collection and the old Cluny build ing. The antique treasures of royalty were al ways dispersed through the different palaces, but after the Revolution of 1848 these different collections were taken over by the state and the Louvre Museum became a rendezvous for art lovers with its old Gallery of Apollo restored and others added and filled with art examples of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. France became the supreme decorative arts producer of Europe when the Rcole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs (founded 1765) was advanced as the centre of art culture for artisans.

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