Esquisses Décoratives by René Binet


The work of French architect and designer René Binet (1866–1911) has been featured here before with one of his most famous creations, the monumental gate he designed for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. Philippe Jullian in his 1974 book about the exposition, The Triumph of Art Nouveau, calls the gate the “Porte Binet” and also notes that it was referred to as “the Salamander” for its resemblance to the salamander stoves of the period.


The reference to nature is apt, albeit for a different reason, since it was Ernst Haeckel’s Kunst-Formen der Natur which Binet used as inspiration for his designs, the encrustation on the gate being based on Haeckel’s studies of shell forms. This influence was developed four years later in Binet’s Esquisses Décoratives, a series of speculative designs which applied Haeckel’s work to architecture and interior design as a whole; the Porte Binet can be seen on the title plate above and the print there seems to have been either signed by or dedicated to Haeckel.

Art Nouveau design is usually thought of in terms of the curvaceous style derived from Alphonse Mucha and others, but there were several designers of the period looking to nature for inspiration in a way which went beyond William Morris’s application of plant forms to flat surfaces. Binet’s lamp designs below show how Haeckel’s sea-life could be transmuted into enclosures for electric lights. These designs hint at a direction which went unexplored in the 20th century; the Art Nouveau style was steadily vulgarised after the Exposition Universelle until it was replaced altogether by the development of Art Deco following the First World War. Binet went on to design the extension of the Paris department store, Printemps, but his huge Art Nouveau atrium was later destroyed by fire.


There aren’t many examples of Binet’s designs on web pages, the ones here are from this Flickr set and a vintage print seller. There is a recent study of Binet’s work available, however, René Binet: from Nature to Form by Olaf Breidbach. For an idea of how an entire city based on Haeckel might look, we have Schuiten and Peeters’ imaginary metropolis of Blossfeldtstad whose “Vegetalistic” architecture was featured in an earlier post.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Le Palais de l’Optique, 1900
Exposition Universelle films
Exposition jewellery
Exposition Universelle catalogue
Exposition Universelle publications
Exposition cornucopia
Return to the Exposition Universelle
The Palais Lumineux
Louis Bonnier’s exposition dreams
Exposition Universelle, 1900