Edgar Brandt and the elegance of Art Deco metalwork

image credit: Edgar Brandt, lantern, Christie’s

This could be a first, but today’s designer of Art Deco furniture, lighting and decorative objects, was a blacksmith who got his start designing weapons for the French military.  This is not the most obvious route for talented designers to take, but it worked for Edgar Brandt (1880-1960) – today a name synonymous with great Deco metalwork.

After serving briefly in the French army, a young Brandt soon realized the French armed forces were lacking in light artillery, so when he opened his foundry in 1902, he began producing artillery mortars that were used for the next half-century.  This gave Brandt the financial success and freedom to go on to design and create decorative metalwork, which became his signature.  His creations incorporate beautifully worked and executed flora and fauna in a bevy of shapes and styles from coiled cobras supporting glass lampshades, to a group of deer charging through a forest of leaves in a fire screen.  Beginning with an Art Nouveau style, he moved with the times adapting his designs to reflect changing styles and tastes.  Brandt showed alongside Ruhlmann at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs of 1925 in Paris, the fair that introduced the world to the world of French Art Deco design. He can perhaps be considered the grandfather of modern French metalwork in a line stretching today to the sublime Claude Lalanne (b. 1924).
Below are but a sampling of Brandt’s exemplary pieces:

image credit: Edgar Brandt, fire screen, Christie’s
I have tried many times to convince a homeowner that they need a fire screen to fill the gaping hole left by the fireplace in their living room.  My best strategy is to show them one of Brandt’s designs first, and then let them fall in love as I have.  There are so many designs to choose from, that there is something to fit any space.  For example, take this one with a stylized Deco fountain in the center.
image credit: Edgar Brandt, fire screen, Sotheby’s
Or this stylish geometric pattern of vertical swirls.  On a winter’s night with the fire sparkling behind these fire screens, the play of light in the room is truly magical.
image credit: Edgar Brandt, fire screen, Christie’s
As is typical of wrought iron furniture, Brandt’s pieces are bold and weighty demanding attention in a room.  But where less experienced designers fall victim to heavy, chunky pieces, Brandt lightens the feeling with his consoles, mirrors and screens by using pierced decoration almost like lace which makes them better suited to today’s interiors.  Side tables and center tables use scrolls and marble to make a statement.
image credit: Edgar Brandt, console table, Sotheby’s
Lighting comes in a variety of designs.  Daum, the French glass maker, often provided the glass shades for his work, as in the case of this iconic cobra lamp (image below).  I have seen this in all sizes from desk and table lamps all the way through to standing floor lamps.  It’s incredible in the large size as it reminds me of the snake charmer making this snake dance.  Snakes were a recurring theme used in everything from bookends to andirons.
image credit: Edgar Brandt, Cobra Lamp, Christie’s
Perhaps my favorite of his light fixtures, is the exquisite wrought iron and frosted glass pendant with a running boar (main image).  What I would do to have this hanging in my vestibule!
image credit: Edgar Brandt, Pelican bookends, Christie’s
I can’t help but share these charming pelican bookends.  Again, they’re great deco style, but this time, with a twist of humor.  The perfect addition to a study or library if you want to banish any feelings of stodginess and to keep an air of playfulness.
image credit: Edgar Brandt, interior doors, Christie’s

Some of Brandt’s greatest work was reserved for grand staircases, fountains, doors and gates built not only for the homes of his wealthy patrons, but also used in ocean liners, embassies and public buildings of the day.  These spectacular monuments of his work occasionally appear at auction as well, but they’re much more difficult for the average person to incorporate into their homes.  I’m quite satisfied to go on with my crusade to fill the drawing rooms of the world with firescreens!

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