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Title: Het Gioconda-ensemble: De zwanenzang van Philippe Wolfers
Subtitle: Een Belgische bijdrage aan de internationale tentoonstelling voor moderne decoratieve en industriële kunsten van Parijs in 1925
Author(s): ADRIAENSSENS, Werner
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 32    Issue:   Date: 2003   
Pages: 131-176
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.32.0.563116

Abstract :
The Gioconda Ensemble, the Swan Song of Philippe Wolfers A Belgian Contribution to the International Exhibition for Modern and Decorative Industrial Arts of Paris in 1925
For the international exhibition for modern decorative and industrial arts that took place in Paris in 1925, Philippe Wolfers submitted a dining room ensemble. On the basis of the plans, given the subtitle Gioconda, the project was unanimously chosen by the Belgian jury to be exhibited in Paris because of its modern and remarkably complete character. The Gioconda ensemble made such a strong impression on the commission that it was decided to exhibit it in the most prestigious setting, the Belgian pavilion designed by Victor Horta.
The project had a very specific genesis. As a silversmith, Philippe Wolfers had designed a silver platter in 1923. This concept provided the basis for a new series of table silver created by the house of Wolfers Frères. The design consisted of a decagon inscribedbetween two other decagons with bevelled corners. By shifting these forms, two series of triangles are created. When the Belgian government invited the artists to participate in the Paris exhibition, the artist chose this geometry with its derived volumes and the use of the triangle as a decorative leitmotif to be the major factors for the design of a complete dining room. In this respect, the ensemble can be seen as a sumptuous context for presenting modern silverware – a form of publicity for the Wolfers Frères house. Proof of this is the fact that these silversmiths continued to extend and commercialise this range of silverware until the 1950s. The simplicity of the design allowed the artist to create the room’s rich character by drawing on opulent materials and paying painstaking attention to the harmony of the colours. In order to consolidate the whole, Wolfers also focused on the architectural interior-decoration.
Although praised in the international press and crowned with the highest distinction by the international jury on account of its sumptuous and modern character, the ensemble betrays both conceptually and formally pre-war sources of inspiration that were no longer actual in 1925. Through the central concept of the silver platter, the artist had created a Gesamtkunstwerk that with its title and the specific integration of the sculptures was spiritually linked to the group of Belgian avant-garde artists of the fin de siècle of which he himself had been a member. Although the Gioconda ensemble was seen as a modern creation, it was not conceived according to the – French – principle of the ensembliers then in the ascendant. As was characteristic for Art Nouveau, Philippe Wolfers himself was still responsible for the design of all the interior elements (except for the windows) with a dominant formal and decorative leitmotif.
In stylistic terms, the Gioconda room was strongly influenced by the Wiener Werkstätte. By way of the Stoclet Palace, this style had left a deep impression on the Brussels artistic world immediately preceding the First World War. This influence still had a strong presence in Belgium in 1925 and, besides the contribution of Philippe Wolfers, characterised a large portion of the Belgian submissions to the exhibition. This can be explained by the fact that the war and its aftermath meant that the Paris exhibition of 1925 provided the first major post-war creative impulse in the country. The stylistic thread was thus taken up where it had been broken off so abruptly in 1914 on the eve of the Great War.

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