Author: Rachel Pool

This green purse is made from silk embroidery, plant fibers, and glass beads. A single tassel dangles from one side of the purse. Made between 1910 and 1912, the purse exhibits the Art Nouveau design style, indicated by the embroidered motif that displays organic patterns taken from nature, shown in the form of fuchsias cascading downward from a curvilinear design. The
designer Eleanor Mabel Sarton (English, 1878–1950) created this sophisticated purse as a sample for the Belgian design firm, L’Art Décoratif Céline Dangotte (1914–1931). Over two dozen works in Cooper Hewitt’s collection, including drawings, furniture, and textile samples, share a similar composition, shedding light on Sarton’s multi-faceted talent within numerous mediums. This elegant purse exemplifies the importance of women designers in the male-dominated realm of early twentieth-century Art Nouveau design.

Eleanor Mabel Sarton was born Eleanor Mabel Elwes in England in 1878. In 1904, Sarton began working for L’Art Décoratif Céline Dangotte (ADCD). Under the direction of owner Céline Dangotte (Belgian, 1883–1975), the firm became one of the most important centers for Art Nouveau interior design and decoration in Belgium. The firm’s great success has been attributed to the fact that Dangotte surrounded herself with a carefully chosen group of young, elite artists, who were determined to create new adaptations to the modern life, such as Sarton. [1]

In addition to purses, Sarton also designed furniture. A  desk/cabinet in Cooper Hewitt’s collection, made of wood and mother-of-pearl, showcases Sarton’s talent in furniture design, a field that consisted mostly of men during the early twentieth century. The desk/cabinet was contemporary with the time period, and displays an extreme care for precision and craft.

Due to the green purse’s tightly-stitched interior that prohibits the keeping of even a small sewing kit, and its excellent condition, it is likely the purse was created as a sample for display purposes. The purse could have been made to be exhibited at ADCD’s salons at the International Exhibition of the Contemporary Woman (Antwerp, Belgium; May 16th–June 15th, 1913). [2] The purse, displaying modern technique, materials, and design, would have been a perfect complement to the women’s clothing exhibited in the salons. Sarton’s work at L’Art Décoratif Céline Dangotte culminated in the showcase of completed rooms at international expositions that not only heightened the status of the firm, but enhanced the role of women designers.

Rachel Pool is a graduate student in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered jointly by the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is a Fellow in the museum’s Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department.

[1] L’Art Décoratif Céline Dangotte, La Renaissance de L’Art Décoratif Moderne en Belgique (Brussels, Belgium: L’Art Décoratif C. Dangotte, 1913), 3–11.
[2] L’Art Décoratif Céline Dangotte, La Renaissance de L’Art Décoratif Moderne en Belgique (Brussels, Belgium: L’Art Décoratif C. Dangotte, 1913), 3–11.

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