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Émile Gallé "Tale of Genji" Chest of Drawers


This remarkable French Art Nouveau chest of drawers, by Émile Gallé, features walnut and fruitwood marquetry inspired by the "Tale of Genji." This elegant chest of drawers features sinuous borders outlining its top and a wonderful bowing and undulating of the legs. In the marquetry, Gallé has depicted a sunset mirage, while in the foreground, wisps of cloud-like motifs harken back to a stanza in the "Tale of Genji," in the central character's mourning for Fujitsubo, his longtime love. There is a temporal quality in the composition on this chest of drawers, with the left side panel depicts a diurne while the right side panel depicts a nocturne, indicates Gallé's fascination with the balance between night and day, light and dark, light and death. This quiet but powerful composition is resolute and yet gentle in its countenance.


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  • Curator's Notes

Item #: F-17739
Artist: Émile Gallé
Circa: 1890
Dimensions: 31.25" height, 33.75" width, 21.25" depth 
Materials: French walnut, Fruitwood marquetry, Together with original keys
Signed: "Gallé"
Literature: Similar chest of drawers is pictured in Gallé Furniture, by Alastair Duncan and Georges de Bartha, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 2012, p. 329, plate 15

Along with other École de Nancy artists, Émile Gallé exhibited with Hokkai Takashima in the display window of René Wiener's store, which served as the office of Wiener's arts journal, the Nancy artiste. The Nancy artiste regularly featured contemporary examples of Gansai (Japanese watercolor), Byobu (folding screens) from the Rinpa school, Sumi-e (ink painting), and Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) on its covers and in its pages. As a show of gratitude, Hokkai bequeathed a vast art book collection to Wiener, and it is from this record that we know with certainty of which Japanese artists Gallé had knowledge.