The world’s most comprehensive and coherent collection of astonishing Art Nouveau artefacts can be found not in Paris, but in one house in the French city of Nancy in the ‘far off’ Grand Est region of Lorraine.
Several museums in France, especially in Paris, have some impressive stand-alone Art Nouveau artefacts. But a mind-bending highlight of any visit to the Musée de l’École de Nancy is a wondrous dining room where every detail expresses the flowing design motifs of the Art Nouveau movement – from the ceiling down to the floor and everything else in between.
Musée de l’École de Nancy
The visual impact of a room composed entirely of Art Nouveau artefacts is utterly staggering. As Art Nouveau expresses organic, twining forms, the room appears to writhe before your eyes, like a twisting interior forest. The massive light fitting seems to descend on a vine from the timbered ceiling as you look upon it. The wall coverings suggest a deep and mysterious woodland. A lone chair really does seem to have arms that are ready to wrap around you. The huge sideboard appears to wave in the breeze. The fireplace surround looks like a gaping mouth just waiting to close.
Although in isolation Art Nouveau artefacts can seem whimsical and romantic, when massed together as they are here in one dining room, the effect is somehow much more foreboding. You might find yourself thinking that if Dracula had a dining room, this is where he would sit down to enjoy a cup of warm, er, tea.
But there’s much more to this museum than this unique dining room. That’s just one part of a very large house that forms the only museum in the world exclusively devoted to the presentation of a vast number of the most exquisite Art Nouveau artefacts. There’s a bedroom – with an astonishingly out-sized winged bug motif in the timber – several well-presented reception rooms and fixtures and cabinets galore of the most impressively stylised glassware and ceramics. Around every corner is another startling revelation. Even the reception desk at the museum entrance would be a prized exhibit in any other museum. It’s this simple: if you have any interest in Art Nouveau at all, you’ve arrived in Nirvana. It just doesn’t get any better than this, anytime, anywhere, ever.
One of the world’s greatest Art Nouveau cities
While the city of Nancy holds considerable interest around the centrally-located and World Heritage-listed Place Stanislas, Nancy is somewhat removed from the well-trodden tourist trail in France. On the upside, it’s definitely one of the great Art Nouveau cities of the world and it’s easy to reach for a short visit, being less than a two-hour train trip from Paris. Thankfully, you won’t have to endure Parisian lines and crowds to enjoy at your complete leisure what this wonderful museum has to offer.
The museum was formerly a rather grand house and has attractive grounds where you can relax and reflect upon your just-completed and up-close visual experience of the best of Art Nouveau. The museum is nevertheless located in a distinctly unglamourous suburb of Nancy, a few kilometres from Place Stanislas. Being situated at 38 Rue du Sergent Blandon, the Musée de l’École de Nancy is best visited by taxi, inbound and outbound.
By Brad Allan, writer and wine tasting host in Melbourne, Australia and frequent visitor to France…