Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
The work of Louis Majorelle is among the great achievements of Art Nouveau, the "new art." This revolutionary international style, which originated in France, ended more than a century of historic revivalism in the French decorative arts. This cabinet vaunts the organic, undulating forms and whiplash curves that characterize Art Nouveau, as well as the ingenious design and solid construction that distinguished Majorelle from his peers.
Majorelle began as a painter, studying in Paris under Jean-François Millet, but when his father died in 1879 he returned to his hometown of Nancy and took over the family's cabinetmaking business. There he came under the influence of one of Art Nouveau's leading exponents, the cabinetmaker Emile Gallé. By 1890, Majorelle had adopted the style, creating slender furniture with marquetry panels and carved floral motifs. Within ten years he achieved international fame when he presented his furniture-including a cabinet almost identical to this one-at the 1900 Paris World Fair. Veneered in kingwood, amaranth, and mahogany, the upper door of the cabinet features a marquetry sailing scene surrounded by a carved waterlily. The waterlily's carved stem passes between its lower doors.
The principle of drawing upon natural forms . . . is in my eyes a great mistake. But such is the opulence with which M. Majorelle bases his works on this principle that . . . I am obliged to wonder if it is not I who am mistaken. -Critic G.M. Jacques, 1900