This “display cabinet for objets d’art” was commissioned from Carabin in 1893 by the City of Paris and exhibited in 1895 at the National Fine Art Society Salon. Carabin celebrates the “applied arts” in this piece.

Two nude female figures symbolising Soft wood and Hard Wood support the projecting horizontal, glazed display case. The figure of Ceramics is carved on one of the side panels above a niche in which Clay sleeps, and on the other side are Metal, still buried in the depths of the earth and Flame, whose hair is standing up like a “blazing plume”. On the rear of the piece is an allegory of Stone, holding a hammer and chisel in its hands. Carabin depicted himself in the form of a grimacing mask trying to spy on the beauties on the front of the piece, echoing the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders.

The display cabinet sums up all of Carabin’s design ideas as a cabinetmaker. It is made of solid walnut, a wood which he favoured for its density, strength and fine grain. As an advocate of a return to craftsmanship, Carabin promoted the use of indigenous woods in preference to exotic woods, lambasted “that appalling contemporary rubbish known as veneer” and criticised Art Nouveau artists who “gave their matter to form rather than form to matter”. The theme of the caryatid, symbolising the fantasies and fears of the 1900s, is found throughout Carabin’s work and sums it up. He almost obsessively used as his model a woman with a bun high on her head which he did not hesitate to extend, bend or curve in order to adapt it to his decorative and structural ends.

D. M.

City of Paris municipal collection's website

City of Paris municipal collection's website

The collections portal can be used to search the collections of Paris’s 14 municipal museums (approximately 336,000 works, including 43,000 belonging to the Petit Palais).

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