FRANÇOIS-RUPERT CARABIN (1862-1932)
The French designer, François-Rupert Carabin, is recognized as one of the most brilliant sculptors of the Art Nouveau era. Born in the lower Rhine region of France, he moved to Paris with his family in 1873 where he was initially active in carving cameos. Eager to develop his skills and satisfy his curiosity about the human form, Carabin studied anatomy by observing surgical operations at the Faculté de Médicine and learned woodcarving by training under the tutelage of a sculptor in Faubourg St. Antoine. His talents were manyfold, and over the course of the years his artistry was realized in clay, wax, bronze, precious stones, wood and ceramics. Whatever the media, the female nude and the fusion of human, plant, and animal form predominate.
Though Carabin began his career as a sculptor, it was his gravitas as an avant-garde furniture designer that brought him international recognition. A commission for a bookcase in 1889 by Henry Montandon, a wealthy businessman and collector, drew considerable attention. With its elaborately carved masks and figures representing Truth, Knowledge and Contemplation as well as Vanity, Greed, Intemperance, Folly, Hypocrisy and Ignorance, the bookcase stunned the public and ignited the artist's passion for exploring the expressive potential of carved wood. Even detractors who criticized Carabin's vision as deeply disturbing acknowledged the superb craftsmanship. No one could dispute the originality of Carabin's work and his furniture was first exhibited at the Sociéte du Champs de Mars in 1891.
Carabin's highly distinctive furnishings, such as "Les Quatre Eléments", with their exceptionally carved figural elements, reject traditional definitions of decorative art and challenge the beholder to view the works as provocative combinations of fine sculpture and functional furniture. The decoration is powerful and symbolic, and while sensual in appearance, the works clearly speak to the psyche and intellect. Carabin executed very few pieces of furniture, approximately twenty in total. The majority of his clients were private individuals such as Albert Kahn, the creator of the Bois de Boulogne, and he was closely linked to artists including Georges Seurat and Paul Signac (with whom he co-founded the Salon des Indépendants), Claude Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec, who dedicated his Femme se frisant les cheveux to his friend: "A Carabin, HTLautrec '91" (Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France).
Carabin retired in 1919 following the hardships of World War I and his work remained largely neglected until 1969 when M. Montandon, Carabin's first patron, sold his collection at auction in France.
The present offering, "Les Quatre Eléments", was originally commissioned by M. Gallimard, a famous French editor, in 1891. The rectangular desktop is supported by masterfully carved figures representing the Four Elements. Water, fashioned as a female nude with water pouring from her mouth, stands opposite the figure personifying Earth, while Wind, represented as a winged figure stands at the front of the desk beside Fire who is setting her wings alight. The chair is elaborately carved as a hollow celestial globe supported by a kneeling female nude. In the 1930s the desk and chair were given to the present owner's grandfather, an architect, in lieu of payment for restoration to a castle. The furniture has remained in the family ever since.
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR