The exhibition Végétal – L’École de la Beauté affirms the beauty of nature and celebrates the timeless characteristics of plants in an intersection of visions, eras and media, inviting the visitor to look at nature anew through the universal prism of art and beauty. As the project initiator, Maison Chaumet has drawn on its vast heritage, one of the most important in the history of jewellery in Europe, to spotlight its naturalist identity and botanist perspective in parallel with artistic forms that are also based on the botanical. This unprecedented and ambitious exhibition will take place at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, from 17 June to 4 September 2022, with the support of the Beaux-Arts de Paris and with the exceptional support of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Louvre.
Nearly 400 works offer an enlightening exploration of 7,000 years of art and science related through the dialogue between painting, sculpture, textiles, photography and furniture, along with nearly 80 jewellery objects from Chaumet and other houses.
This exhibition is made possible by the participation of more than 70 lenders: museums, foundations, galleries, but also private collectors, French and foreign alike, including the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Musée du Louvre, Institut de France, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum, Pistoia Musei, Hamburger Kunsthalle, and the Albion Art Collection in Tokyo.
The exhibition is curated by the botanist Marc Jeanson, former head of the Herbarium at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and now botanical director of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Marc Jeanson conceived Végétal as a herbarium composed of the species present in Chaumet’s creations. The plants appearing in the exhibition coexist in a variety of landscapes, from forest and foreshore to ponds and wheat fields. As they progress through the chapters, the visitor reconnects with the botanist’s tools – the eye, knowledge and memory.
The immersive journey brings together a host of “landscape-worlds”–cave, forest, foreshore, reedbed, prairie, garden, millefleurs–arrayed in the Salles Foch and Melpomène of the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Freed from chronological categorisation, the exhibition allows the visitor to wander freely, passing from the reproduction of cave art more than 5,000 years old to the two canvases by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Spring and Summer – the only examples here of paintings presenting a human figure – to the works of Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Gustave Caillebotte, Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Emile Gallé, Odilon Redon and Otto Dix, to the cyanotypes of English botanist Anna Atkins, the photographs of Brassaï, Dora Maar, Mapplethorpe, and Eva Jospin’s cardboard forest.
The exhibition provides an opportunity to rediscover important female figures, among whom Joséphine holds a special place. Faithful to Maison Chaumet since 1805, the empress was also passionate about natural sciences, to the extent of being recognized for her innovative contributions to botany and horticulture. From Eva Jospin’s forest to the sound design created for the occasion by Laurence Equilbey, women fill the exhibition, with Séraphine de Senlis, Yvonne Jean-Haffen, Barbara Dietzsch, Berthe Morisot, Laure Albin-Guillot, the Sœurs Vesque and Luzia Simons among the other names.
With a partnership established over several years, for both the Beaux-Arts de Paris and Maison Chaumet, creation and transmission are at the heart of their identity. Their participation in this ambitious project reflects the wide-ranging reach of the Beaux-Arts, simultaneously school, lender and museum. As patron of the drawing department and the new “Dessin Extra-Large” chair, Chaumet is also involved in a new course dedicated to scenography, enabling students to follow the realisation of the Végétal exhibition, the design of which has been entrusted to Adrien Gardère.
Maison Chaumet undertook the restoration of some thirty works especially for the exhibition, from the humblest to the most prestigious. From the so-called “pearl necklace” table, offered to Louis XIV by Cardinal Barberini–a spectacular testimony to the golden age of Florentine furniture in pietra dura marquetry–to the plaster and papier-mâché models made by Dr Auzoux from 1877, the floral bouquet in 18th-century porcelain from the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres, and the large oil painting by Max Leenhardt representing the laboratory of the old botanical workshop in Montpellier. The huge, 16th-century Mille-fleurs Tapestry that concludes the exhibition has had its borders restored.
The exhibition book
The book opens with a conversation between Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO of Chaumet, and Marc Jeanson, exhibition curator. It brings together contributions from the American-Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, who died in November 2021, the philosopher Emanuele Coccia, art historian Estelle Zhong Mengual, archivist-palaeographer and Beaux-Arts curator Alice Thomine-Berrada, and the writer Filipa Ramos.
Exclusive photos by Julien Claessens and Thomas Deschamps present Chaumet jewellery creations from a new perspective.