Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Lace Work of Mathurin Meheut

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Lace design, c1906.

The Breton artist and designer Mathurin Meheut studied in both Brittany and Paris, and although spending much of his adult career in Paris, he is perhaps better known for his Breton themed work. Some of the themes were overtly Breton in appearance, while others spent more time detailing small vignettes of flora and fauna that could be found in Brittany. Despite the metropolitan lifestyles of many artists and designers throughout the history of art and decoration, and indeed the lifestyles of contemporary artists today, it is always worthwhile noting the geographical origins of an artist or designer.  This can often give us an intriguing insight and can tell us much more about the individual's creative life as well as at least a partial reasoning behind the styles and themes in that individuals work.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Lace design, c1906.

Meheut obviously felt a strong attachment to his native Brittany and his early upbringing in the region never really left him. He was particularly drawn to marine life and spent significant periods of his career officially producing work for marine based organizations such as the Station de Biologie Marine at Roscoff. In this respect, it is interesting to note that two of the eight illustrations shown in this article are marine based and are in fact relatively detailed anatomical representations of ocean life.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Lace design, c1906.

Although much of his work spans the disciplines of fine art, ceramics, illustration and printing, he was known to have produced work in some other disciplines as well, including textile based crafts. These lace designs half of which were produced by him in about 1906 while the other half in about 1909, give an impression of his naturalistic style and although there are elements of a late Art Nouveau feel to some of the work, the impression is much more one of snapshots of the natural world interpreted by Meheut.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Lace design, c1906.

As far as lace pattern work is concerned, Meheut's style was unusual for the craft, though not necessarily unique. Lace work has a history of largely depending on detailed pattern work, whether geometric or organically based and has traditionally been much more ambivalent regarding any form of naturalistic representation of the natural world. However, Maheut's vignettes are charming and some have more than a passing resemblance to the naive and rural ambience of Aesop's fables. It is perhaps the dependence on elements of the natural rather than that of the studied world that helps to strengthen these pieces and give them a unique quality of their own, something that is often missing in the often tightly controlled world of lace pattern work.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Artichokes lace design, c1909.

It seems unclear how much lace work Meheut produced or if he worked in any other textile craft field. There are confirmed reports of some lace fan work as well as a tentative confirmation of some applque design work, though no noted work in embroidery for example. However, as far as lace work is concerned it is true to say that he was to add his own personal dimension to lace craft. The images shown in this article go some way into expanding the idea and notion of the intrinsic versatility of lace, a notion that is often not fully recognised. The history of lace work is overwhelmingly one of variations of tradition, and while this is certainly not true of all lace work, the tradition does seem to be uppermost when thinking of typical lace work.

Illustration: Mathurin Maheut. Daturas lace design, c1909.

Meheut produced intriguing pieces that in some ways helped to contemporise the craft of lace. It was perhaps not as obviously challenging as some of the more strident forms of early Modernism. However, some pieces do show a movement towards a singular and perhaps more honest approach to decoration and in their way could be seen to challenge the traditional feminine prettiness of much of the eighteenth century fashion lace work. Much of this century's output was still being produced throughout the nineteenth century with little or no innovation. However, Meheut and others were to part company with the eighteenth century domination of lace pattern work and contemporary innovations did begin to occur during this period.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Poison Saint Pierre lace design, c1909.

Future articles will hopefully help to expand those horizons and show some of the interesting and unusual approaches towards lace work taken by a number of artists and designers, particularly those of the early twentieth century.

Illustration: Mathurin Meheut. Roses Fremieres lace design, c1909.

Reference links:
La Bretagne de Mathurin Méheut
Mathurin Meheut: Vol. 2 La Bretagne Rurale (French Edition)
Mathurin Meheut
Lace History and Fashion
Lace: A History
Lace and Bobbins: A History and Collector's Guide
A History of Hand-Made Lace: Dealing with the Origin of Lace, the Growth of the Great Lace Centres, the Mode of Manufactures, the Methods of Distiuguishing and the Care of Various Kinds of Lace
A Living Mystery: The International Art & History of Crochet
Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint (The Dover Pictorial Archives Series)
The Technique of Filet Lace
Ancient Needlepoint And Pillow Lace - With Notes On The History Of Lace-Making And Descriptions Of Thirty Examples
Old lace, a handbook for collectors; an account of the difference styles of lace, their history, characteristics & manufacture

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