The Beauty of Natural Forms



Paris, Tolmer, (circa 1928).

Folio, loose as issued in original cloth-backed portfolio with ties, white boards, upper side lettered in silver with large pochoir illustration. (4) pp. and 20 pochoir plates including 16 of butterflies (five species to each plate [one plate shows six species]) and 4 plates of transformation of butterflies into patterns. Complete.

First and only edition of Seguy’s spectacular and intensely-coloured pochoir butterfly plates.

The plates show exotic and highly colourful butterflies from India, New Guinea, the Himalayas, Africa, South-East Asia, China, and South America, enlarged in size, sometimes as much as ten or fifteen times (to avoid the need of a lens), but reproduced faithfully in form and colour in a mixture of media combining a collotype base with stencil in watercolour or gouache.

Seguy’s work in Paris between 1900 and 1930 bridges the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods: embracing the bold new forms of the Art Deco style while retaining the expressive curvilinear forms of the older style. In the Papillon collection, he introduces images of rarely-seen exotic butterflies to the artistic world, showing great artistic flair and sensitivity to the beauty of natural forms and a remarkable understanding of their application in the field of design. The pochoir technique, in which colours are applied by hand through a succession of stencils, is especially suited to the subject, allowing the artist to convey the intensity of colour in butterflies’ wings and yet do justice to its subtle variations.

Seguy was alive to the decorative potential of insect symmetry and provides four plates in which details of butterflies are incorporated into sixteen different decorative abstract forms and ornamental patterns.

Along with Grasset and Verneuil, Émile-Allain Séguy (1877-1951) pioneered the decorative application of floral motifs, and his works are among the most sumptuous of the period. The artist studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. In 1898, he exhibited his first works at the Salon des Artistes Français: leather objects and designer bindings, and in 1900 he won two silver medals for his creations. From 1902, he was the first to use lacquer to decorate furniture, a fashion that flourished in the 1920s. He created designs for wallpaper and textile, shapes for ceramics, furniture, models for industry. He worked for the Printemps department stores for ten years and was artistic director of the window displays. In all, Séguy produced eleven albums of illustrations and designs, most of them with floral patterns but he also used butterflies and insects to great effect.

“Seguy’s albums were created using a unique printing process called pochoir, which was popular in France at the turn of the 20th century. Pochoir is a process that utilizes the method of applying pigment to paper through the use of stencils. First, the artist created an image in watercolour or gouache. The design was then analysed to determine the necessary colours and number of stencils needed. The stencils could be cut from any number of materials, including copper, zinc, oiled cardboard, or celluloid. The paint was applied through the stencils by brushes or pompons. The prints were produced entirely by hand assembly line style, and each one was individually examined and approved upon completion. While simple in concept, pochoir could become quite complex in practice, with some images requiring the use of one hundred or so stencils to produce a single print. The technique was regularly used to produce plates in French fashion journals as well as being used to illustrate industrial design, textile, interiors, and architecture folios. Pochoir is thought to be a reaction to what was seen as a general debasement of machine printing technology during the time period. Jean Saudé, the individual who most influenced the pochoir technique, believed that pochoir was the only process which translated the artist’s original intent because it was entirely done by hand. Saudé considered the process to be a type of hyphen between the artist and the public. After viewing the original pochoir prints of Seguy’s work, it is easy to see exactly what Saudé was referring to. Pochoir allows for characteristics such as defined surface elevation through the use of thick paint, visible brush strokes, texture, gradation and transparent colours. When one views an original pochoir print, especially one designed by an artist of Seguy’s talent, it feels as if you are holding an original one-of-a-kind painting in your hand. The print has a certain texture and surface quality akin to original gouache and watercolour paintings that is hard to find in other reproduction methods. Pochoir’s popularity lasted only through the 1930s. The characteristics that made pochoir prints so magnificent were also the medium’s eventual downfall. The pochoir process was expensive and quite labour intensive and was soon replaced by techniques such as lithography and serigraphy” (Miami University Libraries).

Faint foxing to the title-page, beautiful copy of what is certainly Seguy’s most splendid and best loved portfolio.

Ref. Francis M. Lamond & Stéphane-Jacques Addade, Portefeuilles modernes Art déco,  pp. 542-543