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René Charles Eugène LONGA (French, 1878 - ?)
The Garden of Eden
214 x 294 cm
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated lower right: 'René Longa 1932'
Private Collection, UK
Spier Hotel, Nr, Cape Town, SA
Beyond its religious character, The Garden of Eden is a fascinating testimony of the 1930’s French Art Deco, insofar as it refers to the stylistic and socio-cultural concerns of the period.
As it is described in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve, after they were created by God, lived in the idyll of the Garden of Eden, where they were surrounded by lush wildlife. René Longa seems to have more specifically focused his painting on the episode of the temptation of Eve. While Adam is asleep, Eve in a lascivious pose, is looking at the snake wrapped around her; she holds an apple in her right hand, while more apples lay on the ground are probably here to notify that she has just eaten, or is about to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. However neither this tree, nor the Tree of Life, are identifiable on the picture, probably because the main purpose for Longa is more to produce a seductive and fashionable image, than to accurately depict a religious scene.
The exotic and luxuriant vegetation, the blue and green colours, the stylized lines and curves pattern, are key elements that give the Garden of Eden its Art Deco signature, a time of modernity and extremes of wealth and depression.
In fact, the vegetal motif was a major source of inspiration for creators, and in many different fields. One can cite the jewellery and fragrance industry with René Lalique, the metal and lacquer works by Jean Dunand, the Ruhlman furniture etc… This tendency was all the more reinforced with the apparition of a taste for the “exotic”: “every aspect of modern living was given an exotic veneer: facades of factories and cinemas, packaging of perfumes and chocolates. The ubiquitous iconography of tropical birds and animals, lush vegetation, sunbursts (…) gave an exotic flourish to all kinds of design” .
This vogue was even perceptible in the movie industry: “Tarzan the Ape Man” was released in 1932, (the same year as The Garden of Eden was painted), and one can’t prevent from drawing a parallel between Tarzan and Jane and the lost Paradise where they are shown to be living, and Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden…
This craze for the “exotic” was notably developed in conjunction with, and fostered by, the Paris International Colonial Exhibition which was held at the Palais de la Porte Dorée (now the National Museum of African and Ocean Arts) in 1931. The purpose of this highly popular six-month exhibition was to introduce the French colonies and to promote the civilizing mission of French colonialism. For that occasion, the sculptor Alfred Janniot was commissioned to build an extensive bas-relief for the façade of the Palais. It portrays ships, oceans, and wildlife including antelopes, elephants, zebras and snakes (ill. 1), while inside the building the visitors could admire the series of frescoes by Henri Pierre Ducos de la Haille, designed as an allegory of the relationships between France and its colonies (ill. 2). Ghislaine Wood, “The Exotic”, in C. Benton, T. Bentojn and G. Wood, Art Deco: 1910-1939, exhibition catalogue, V&A, London, 2003, p. 124.
Furthermore, The Garden of Eden is very emblematic of these large decorative wall paintings that were commissioned to decorate the interior of either private dwellings, or public buildings , such as theatres, airports, lobbies of office, swimming pools, cinemas, or even ships. By example Jean Dunand, between 1930-1935, decorated the Grand Salon of the French Ocean liner, Normandie, with monumental lacquered panels, featuring jungle foliage.
Private and public sites became also privileged showcases of a new collaboration between architects, textile designers, painters and sculptors, furniture makers, working together to create what was soon called a “decorative ensemble” and it is most likely that The Garden of Eden was commissioned to adorn one of these grand spaces.
Nevertheless, The Garden of Eden bears some obvious characteristics with René Longa’s other work. Particularly the figure of Eve shows similarities with the reclining nude depicted in Longa’s most famous painting, La Sieste, which was exhibited at the Salon in 1914. René Longa was a habitué of the Salon and in 1922 he won a monetary award, and in 1924 he received a gold medal and high honors. Several of his works were then reproduced in the weekly French newspaper L’Illustration, which remains as a valuable source of documentation for the artist.
Large scale, Art Deco paintings such as this, is extremely rare, for most were created for large public spaces that have subsequently been redeveloped and many of these bespoke pieces have been destroyed due to lack of space to keep or show them.
There is no doubt, that this piece must be one of the grandest and finest examples of the period, still in existence.
2 Hotels particuliers and villas were particularly flourishing in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s and they were built by renowned architects. A lot of them were built in the 14th, 15th and 16th arrondissement: for instance the Maison Barillet in the 15th arr. by Mallet-Stevens in 1932 or one can also think about the “quartier Montsouris” in the 14th arrondissement, with private mansions and “ateliers d’artistes”.
|Height||214.00 cm||(84.25 inches)|
|Width||294.00 cm||(115.75 inches)|
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