The iconic Villa Majorelle, in the home of Art Nouveau, Nancy, France, has reopened its doors in spring 2020 after several months of restoration. It is a total work of art by the architect Henri Sauvage, built for the furniture designer Louis Majorelle. The historic monument is owned by the Nancy City Council.
Following major external renovation works, which were revealed to the public during the 2017 Heritage Days, Villa Majorelle’s partial internal renovation has brought to live its former glory. Thanks to the meticulous restoration of the well-known original decoration and furnishings of the reception rooms and bedroom, visitors are now offered the opportunity to journey through time to explore the artist’s family life. With its additional reception areas and guide materials for all cultural groups, Villa Majorelle has been established as an essential, exciting and surprising new venue for exploring the world of Art Nouveau in Nancy.
Louis Majorelle was born in Toul on 3 October 1859. His father, Auguste Majorelle (1825–1879),was fairly successful in the field of Japanese-style furniture decoration and style copying. Louis was considering a career as a painter and studied at the School of Fine Arts in Paris but, after the death of his father, had to return to Nancy to help his mother run the family business, which already employed over twenty workers and was enjoying favourable financial success following the annexation of Alsace-Moselle.
Under Louis’ leadership, the company launched into the production of modern furniture, influenced by nature and by Emile Gallé: it was an immediate success. At the same time, he continued with the industrial production of style copies.
With the help of his brother, Jules Majorelle, the company set out to conquer the Parisian and international markets. In 1904, they opened a retail store on Rue de Provence, Paris (Samuel Bing’s former store) and branches were set up in London, Berlin, Lyon, Lille and even Oran. The sales catalogues offered various products and attested to the longevity of certain models over the decades. Orders from haute couture houses, Parisian cafés, rich industrialists, department stores and embassies made sure that the company enjoyed lasting success and recognition.
In 1898, Louis Majorelle gave the architect Henri Sauvage (1873–1932), who he had met at the home of their mutual friend, the sculptor Alexandre Charpentier, the task of drawing up plans for his personal home in Nancy. Aged just 26, Henri Sauvage had not yet been involved in such a project; his only experience was a few months of working with the Brussels architect Paul Saintenoy. Nevertheless, Majorelle preferred him to the Nancy architect Lucien Weissenburger, who had just built his workshops and been given the job of carrying on the project. His choice was based partly on the Parisian architect’s creative boldness and partly on the network of artists who would be called upon to take part in the project.
It was also an opportunity for Majorelle to show Nancy some original conceptual ideas. Villa Majorelle -or Villa Jika, named using the initials of Louis Majorelle’s wife, Jane Kretz- was built in 1901–1902 and has a very special place in the history of Nancy’s architecture. It was the first completely Art Nouveau house in Nancy, designed as an ensemble in which each component of its structure and decoration was designed in close interdependence with the rest of the building. The flowing forms and decorative motifs and the continuous interplay between the exterior and the interior make Villa Majorelle an example of success fully applying the notion of artistic unity, advocated by a large number of artists of the period.
The house that Louis Majorelle wanted had to reflect the spirit that reigned throughout his work: modernity, dynamism and unostentatious simplicity. Of a reasonable size, it was designed first and foremost for the people who lived in it and their day-to-day comfort. Sauvage thought about living space before elevation, interior layout before academic ideals: the result was described by Franz Jourdain as a “charming, spiritual vision” in the long article that he dedicated to the building in Art et Décoration in 1902. “The eye follows the rise of the staircase, enters the studio through its vast glass roof, senses the privacy of the bedrooms, stops at the little bay windows in the bathrooms, lingers over the expansive dimensions of a hospitable dining room and inspects the unpretentious entrance hall at its ease. High chimney stacks to draw the smoke from the fireplaces, sturdy downpipes protective awnings, protruding balconies, wooden consoles to break up the rigidity of the stone, enamelled stoneware of lavish brilliance harmoniously tinted woodwork and soberly designed wrought iron everything in its place, everything there for a reason, nothing to add and nothing to subtract”.