’Line Vautrin: 100 Years of Magnitude’ at Maison Gerard, New York

Line Vautrin at home in 1989.
Line Vautrin at home in 1989; The solo exhibition of the artist's work at Maison Gérard in New York.
(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Material and spiritual. Light and shadows. Stable and volatile. More and less. These are some of the antagonismes Line Vautrin (opens in new tab) carved onto a small bronze disc atop one of her coveted boxes. The word pairs, which reveal themselves slowly from a sea of lowercase letters, read like a staccato biography of the French artist, who died in 1997 at the age of 83.

Dubbed the 'poetess of metal' by American Vogue, Vautrin elevated industrial materials to the realm of decoration and, mining inspiration from sources dating back to ancient times, couldn't resist a double entendre. New York gallery Maison Gérard (opens in new tab) has brought together 67 boxes by the self-taught artist in an exhibition that celebrates the 100th anniversary of her birth.

'Line Vautrin's career started very small and organically,' says Benoist F Drut, a partner in Maison Gérard. 'She offered her creations door-to-door at age 20 before being able to open her own showroom, and finished her career with an atelier on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.' Born into a family of Parisian metalworkers, Vautrin honed her casting, chasing and gilding skills from a young age in her father's foundry workshop. From buttons to jewellery to frivolities (comb-holders, foot-warmers), she progressed to the bronze containers that earned her widespread acclaim.

The silvered and gilt bronze boxes in the exhibition were created between 1942 and 1950 and amassed by a single collector over four decades. Their embellished covers reveal a variety of inspirations, from mythological figures and poetry by Rimbaud and Apollinaire to a Venetian masquerade ball and declarations of love, often concealed in symbolic word puzzles known as rebuses. One titled 'La Foule' (The Crowd) is etched with a cluster of stern, angular faces, save for a lone round one, grinning in the middle. 'Vautrin had a very consistent body of work that was expertly crafted and totally proprietary to her,' says Drut, 'where poetry, romanticism and fantasy meet a great sense of creation and craftsmanship.'

Vautrin's silvered-bronze 'Les roseaux aux têtes humaines'

Vautrin's silvered-bronze 'Les roseaux aux têtes humaines' (Reeds with human faces) box; a gilded-bronze 'Les quatre âges de la femme' (Four ages of a woman) box; and, at right, two powder boxes with the inscription: 'De la poudre et des bals' (Face powder and masquerade balls)

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Maison Gerard, New York.

Maison Gérard is hosting the exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

The Kings Cobblestones' compact mirror.

Left: 'The Kings Cobblestones' compact mirror, with a small box attached resembling Le Trianon. Right: 'Je t'aime passionnément' (I am passionately in love with you), and a box titled 'Allez, laissez couler les jours, allègez-les, l'amour est un lait de beauté' (Let the days pass, lighten them, love is a beautifying lotion)

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

One of Vautrin's 'Ophelia' gilded-bronze boxes.

From left: one of Vautrin's 'Ophelia' gilded-bronze boxes, inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's poem of the same name; her 'De la poudre et des bals' box; and her 'Exaltantes les glaces' (Exhilarating are the icy peaks) gilded bronze box

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Gilded-bronze box with three section.

A rare 'Le Cantique des Colonnes' (Hymn of the Columns) gilded-bronze box with three sections. Engraved on top is an excerpt from Paul Valéry's 'Charmes'

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Boxes in gilded and silvered bronze.

Vautrin's 'Les petits cadeaux entretiennent l'amité' (Little gifts keep a friendship alive) boxes in gilded and silvered bronze. At right are her gilded-bronze box 'Obéissant passionnément' (Passionately obedient) and her 'Je t'aime en silence' (I am silently in love with you) silvered- and gilded-bronze box

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Gilded bronze.

A gilded-bronze 'Cordages' (Ropes) box (left) and J'ai perdu ma tourterelle' (I lost my turtledove), also in gilded bronze

(Image credit: Robert Levin)

Silvered and gilded bronze.

Two 'Faubourg Saint-Honoré' boxes, depicting the location of Vautrin's atelier, in silvered and gilded bronze. At right is Vautrin's 'Livre' (Book) box, inscribed with verses from the poem 'Clair de lune'

(Image credit: Robert Levin)


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