Hervé Van der Straeten is one of France’s most respected designers, known for the bold design and meticulous craftsmanship of his furniture and lighting, among other inventive pieces.
‘Many art forms have inspired my work: architecture, contemporary art and also the decorative arts of different periods,’ Van der Straeten says. ‘I am very curious [about] nature. I'm interested in a lot of things and these get translated into my work.’
It is perhaps no surprise, then, that when asked to select his favourite pieces from The Exceptional Sale, which sees a wide range of decorative objects with extraordinary provenance offered on 28 November at Christie’s in Paris, Van der Straeten’s picks are particularly diverse.
Among his highlights is a gilt bronze figure — seemingly half-woman, half-bat — executed circa 1903 by French Art Nouveau sculptor Agathon Léonard. This ‘phantasmagoric bronze’ illustrates the ‘tormented and sinister aspects of Symbolism,’ Van der Straeten says, and would have appealed to the imaginative taste of the 19th-century avant-garde.
A pair of 18th-century Sèvres porcelain vases by Charles-Nicolas Dodin ‘recall my associations with Asia’, says the designer. ‘The vases represent the Western vision of an idealised China.’ These unusually shaped vases were used for displaying fashionable flower bulbs such as hyacinths, narcissi and tulips.
A panoramic work by Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle, ‘is a very interesting and fun piece’, Van der Straeten says. ‘It’s the ancestor of the moving image, if you like. This big panel would be go inside what was called a “magic lantern”, and the piece would be backlit. This was very fitting in the Age of Enlightenment,’ he explains, when optics, perspective and light were at the centre of the attention of scientists and artists alike.
‘It is very interesting to look at all the little details,’ the designer continues. ‘The colours are quite intense because it was made to be lit from the inside.’
Van der Straeten was also ‘seduced’ by a Louis XVI chair made of mahogany, without any fabric. ‘The finish on the ram heads,’ on the armrests, ‘and many other details, are of a very high quality,’ he says. ‘The design is very graphic but at the same time it feels extremely sturdy.’
‘Personally, I like to surround myself with pieces from different eras and places,’ the designer continues. ‘Mixing these various periods together lends a certain musicality. It doesn't mean that you can’t show them with contemporary pieces. They are little nods to our past and our history.’