A snowy terrace, ebullient pink-tinged amaryllises, and a scarlet-coiffed maiden distinguish this winter-themed print by Eugène Samuel Grasset (Swiss, 1841-1917, active Paris, France, 1871-1917). The print, which spells out “Décembre” in the upper left-hand corner, was a part of a set of calendar prints, organized by month. Cooper Hewitt has eight of these prints in the Drawings, Prints, & Graphic Design Department. In Décembre, Grasset aligns text and image to create an evocative visual representation for the month. The print’s snow-filled background is enlivened with festive colors from the woman’s red hair and crimson gown, and is brimming with holiday flora, exemplified by the amaryllis flowers and bouquet of white berries.
Known for his jewelry and metalwork designs as well as for his graphic designs, illustrations, and formative role in the promulgation of Art Nouveau, Grasset was commissioned by Parisian “grand magasin” La Belle Jardinière (The Beautiful Gardener) in 1896 to complete a set of calendar advertisements. Given the popular department store’s expressive name, Grasset’s seasonal and botanic-driven prints, all of which feature long-limbed and fair-skinned women, is fitting for the client and is rooted in tenets of Art Nouveau aesthetics.
In other versions of Grasset’s series for La Belle Jardinière, the conspicuously blank rectangle at the lower right side was used as a text box in which the days of the month were listed alongside the day in the week in which each fell, and the corresponding Saint who is celebrated.[i] The banner along the bottom was similarly used to advertise for the store, while in place of the “Décembre” in the upper left, the year was printed along with the store’s name and address. Grasset’s lively print served as an advertisement, a decorative print, and as a functional work on paper.
[i] Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne, Eugène Grasset, L’art et l’ornement (Lausanne: Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne), 2011.
Caroline O’Connell is the Collections Assistant in Drawings, Prints, & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.