René Binet and Ernst Haeckel's Collaboration: Magical Naturalism and Architectural Ornament
The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections possesses one of the few complete copies of the French architect René Binet’s Esquisses decoratives, published in increments as loose plates in 1902/1903. Before dying at forty-six in 1911, Binet had received the prestigious commission to design the principal gateway to the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 – which he did from coral structures as they had been elucidated by the German biologist Ernest Haeckel, with whom Binet was in correspondence. Subsequently he was named architect of the second block of the Printemps department store, executing a remarkable interior environment (today unfortunately modified).
Binet’s work parallels the broader Art Nouveau style but is unique in its geometric developments taking off from Haeckel’s studies of biological morphology. A generation later, a successor to Haeckel, Karl Blossfeldt, produced a similar book of surprising images of natural forms, but this time by close-up photography -- again inspiring a number of designers like Hans Poelzig in Germany . In America, the images of Binet, Haeckel and Blossfeldt parallel the design experiments of Claude Bragdon, Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, and finally (in the 1920’s) Buckminster Fuller.
Curated by Northwestern University Professor David Van Zanten (WCAS, Art History), the exhibit displays all sixty of the plates of Esquisses decoratives in the alphabetical sequence Binet created for them, as well as representative works by Haeckel and Blossfeldt, and illustrative designs of some of their followers.
This exhibit is part of the Chicago-area "Festival of the Architecture Book, 1511-2011," details of which may be seen at www.1511-2011.org.
The exhibit will run from April 28, 2011 to October 25, 2011 and is located in the 3rd floor lobby of Deering Library.