LA GAZETTE N°12
Updated: 3 days ago
(Dossenheim, 1823 - Paris, 1893)
Masterpieces of floral and insect marquetry
The re-inventor of marquetry in the 19th century
(Research and writing)
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FROM SATURDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2023 TO SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2023
Portrait of Charles Hunsinger, reproduced in Louis Bourne's "M. Hunsinger," The Pantheon of Industry, ninth year, April 15, 1883.
Although relatively obscure today, Charles Hunsinger (1823-1993) was nonetheless counted among the major figures in French cabinetmaking and decorative craftsmanship in the 19th century. Originally from Alsace and hailing from a family of woodworkers, he was trained by his father and at Faubourg-Saint-Antoine after his arrival in Paris in 1854. Experiencing late but exponential success, he rose to prominence from around 1865 onwards due to his mastery of the marquetry technique, which he revitalized. Whether working independently or in collaboration with Charles Wagner - with whom he managed a business in the 1870s - he participated in major exhibitions of his time and discipline, particularly at Universal Expositions where he garnered honors and medals, enjoying a certain critical success.
Attuned to evolving tastes, his production was characterized by artistic furniture or pieces realized from catalogs, eclectic, elegant, and refined. His greatest merit undoubtedly lies in his renewal of marquetry with various types of natural wood, often inlaid with ivory or other luxury materials. A model of success through hard work, he ascended socially, yet never looked down upon workers, advocating for the improvement of their working conditions throughout his career. Through his success and body of work, he established his status as an artist and contributed to the revalorization of craftsmanship and decorative arts in the 19th century.
AN ARTIST OF HIS TIME: A SUCCESSFUL ARTIST-ARTISAN
In 1865, Hunsinger achieved his first success at the exhibition of the Central Union of Applied Fine Arts and Industry, where he presented a sideboard in ebony marquetry with ivory inlay. Recognized by critics who promised him a bright future, he was awarded a bronze medal. Two years later, in 1867, he achieved the same honors at the Universal Exposition held in Paris. In 1869, he distinguished himself with his participation in the exhibition of the Central Union, earning him a silver medal this time.
This ascent was undoubtedly put on hold during the Franco-Prussian War, between 1870 and 1871. In December 1872, he partnered with Charles Wagner, whose role in the enterprise remains somewhat unclear. They established a lasting presence at 13, rue Sedaine, where they opened a boutique. Together, they continued their pursuit of distinctions: a merit medal at the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, another medal at the International Exhibition in London in 1874, a silver medal at the Universal Exposition of 1878, a vermeil medal at the Exhibition of Applied Sciences and Industry in 1879...
These merits were accompanied by commercial success, enabling them to open a second boutique at 13, rue des Pyramides.
From 1881, Hunsinger terminated his collaboration with Wagner and took over the business solo. However, his renown did not wane, and he produced creations that counted among his masterpieces, including two salons for the Marguery restaurant in Paris. At exhibitions, he continued to enjoy great success and accumulated accolades. In Brussels, he won the gold medal in 1881. In 1887, he was rewarded with a silver medal at the exhibition of the Central Union of Decorative Arts, where he exhibited "several pieces in waxed rosewood with marquetry in natural wood in the Louis XIII style. Among these pieces, a large two-door wardrobe in Flemish style, a small English-style desk, and several other pieces" all of "remarkable execution." In 1889, at the Universal Exposition, he was once again rewarded with a silver medal.
Emerging from a humble social class and having experienced total destitution, Hunsinger serves as a model for artisans. Known for his tireless work ethic, his courage and determination are identified by critics as the sources of his artistic and commercial success. Under their pens, he becomes the example of a talented and industrious artisan whose diligence led to artistic and commercial triumph.
At exhibitions, he presented high-quality artistic furniture that distinguished him as a full-fledged artist. This desire to present oneself as an artist was not unique to Hunsinger. Over the course of the 19th century, in the field of decorative arts, artisans progressively asserted the artistic aspect of their profession. They sought to elevate and have their discipline recognized as an art, on par with Fine Arts and not inferior to them. Thus, the hierarchy among the arts was disrupted. This situation was reinforced by the context of competition in exhibitions, where artisans vied for technical prowess, inventiveness, and refinement to assert themselves with exceptional pieces. However, this assertion of artist status was also carried out through collective actions and associations, notably the Central Union of Applied Fine Arts and Industry. Founded in 1864 by several decorative artisans - including Jean-Paul Mazaroz - it was the successor to exhibitions of the same name organized in 1861 and 1863. This private enterprise aimed to raise funds for organizing exhibitions and creating a museum, library, and school in the field of decorative arts. The goal was twofold: to elevate artisans to the status of artists and to make art accessible to everyone, in interiors, through furniture production.
Throughout his career, Hunsinger collaborated with the Central Union on several occasions and contributed to its projects through his presence at its exhibitions, payment of dues, participation in subscriptions, and donation of his furniture for the future museum.
AN ARTIST IN HIS WORK: REVIVING MARQUETRY AND INLAY
Hunsinger's renown is primarily due to his revitalization of marquetry in the 19th century. At its zenith during the Italian Renaissance and the 17th and 18th centuries in France, the use of this technique experienced a relative decline in the early 19th century. Around the 1850s, the historicist trend led creators to take a fresh look at past artistic periods and contemporary non-European arts. The penchant for Boulle, Louis XV, and Louis XVI styles, which developed at the time, certainly explains the resurgence of marquetry. Seizing this fashion, Hunsinger adopted the techniques of his predecessors and drew inspiration from their creations. For the composition and forms of his furniture, he alternated and/or fused different styles - those of the Renaissance, late 18th-century neo-classical art, and contemporary English furniture - in a balanced manner. Thus, he fully contributed to the eclectic fashion characteristic of the 19th century.
Initially acclaimed for his ebony marquetry with ivory inlay, he subsequently developed the marquetry of natural woods, which became his second specialty. Whereas, for past centuries, certain wood tones were naturally unavailable in Europe, the two collaborators took advantage of contemporary global trade and the importation of exotic essences - notably those of green hue. In addition to these innovations, Hunsinger earned a reputation for the precise execution of his marquetry furniture, made possible by modern saws. Some of his marquetry and inlay panels, masterpieces of craftsmanship, appear as true works of art - among them, the drop-front of a desk featuring an ivory inlay scene depicting wild animals and trophies, as well as his buffet doors inlaid with natural wood floral bouquets and ivory, executed after Théodore de Bry.
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Panel from a cabinet by Charles Hunsinger and Charles Wagner, circa 1870, ebony, natural wood marquetry, and ivory inlay,
Antiquités Rodriguez Décoration
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