For several years, Art Deco collectors have corroborated the talent of the Hungarian‐born sculptor Gustave Miklos with their high bidding. But what do we know about Miklos’ paintings and drawings? There exists a lacuna of painted figurative works signed by his hand between 1922 and 1941. Why did Miklos stop painting for nearly twenty years? And how is this mystery connected to the present lot, the enamel panel signed ‘Schmied’? An investigation into the matter expounds the plenitude of the artistry of Gustave Miklos.
Miklos abruptly stopped painting in 1922. Encouraged by steady sales from patrons, which included the renowned couturier and collector Jacques Doucet, he concentrated solely on the production of decorative art objects, for which he made many preparatory drawings. Simultaneously, he executed a series of bas‐reliefs in embossed metal, which he exhibited in a 1923 exhibit at the avant‐garde gallery L’Effort Moderne, owned by Cubist champion Léonce Rosenberg. Miklos was also engaged in patinated bronze, creating sculptures from the material. Was Miklos only a sculptor then?
From Fascination to Possession
What happened behind Gustave Miklos’ studio door at 158 rue Saint‐Jacques in Paris? Bent over his drawing board, he tirelessly sketched illustrations, initials, ornamentations, binding cover projects and book models in ink and gouache. He also worked on lacquered panels and screens, paintings and models of enameled cast iron decorations. Swiss-born engraver François-Louis Schmied first visited Miklos’s studio discreetly, disguised elegantly behind round tortoiseshell glasses and a felt hat. He feverishly grasped the present works and told Miklos about his next edition of books and the stakes of his major commissions. Pressed for time, Schmied slipped sketches by the Hungarian artist into a large notebook.
Schmied was an outstanding technician who had mastered the art of wood graving at his Ecole des Arts Industriels, Geneva apprenticeship. He met Miklos in the workshops of Jean Dunand, rue Hallé, a Parisian base for brassware (dinanderie) and lacquering. From the beginning of their relationship, Schmied understood the creative capability of the young Miklos. Only Miklos could give shape to these fictitious women, some goddesses, some lascivious lovers, whom he enveloped in drapes with geometric embroidery born of the Art Deco spirit. Schmied knew that by leaving the studio with these artistic treasures under his arm, he became part of the historical lineage of publishers on the famous rue Saint‐Jacques, the nerve center of the world of prints in the 17th century. He locked himself up on the fourth floor of his workshops at 74 bis rue Hallé, where nobody ever set foot, and for good reason
Confidential Agreement and Consequences
In 1922 Schmied and Miklos entered into a confidential arrangement that bound them together for the remainder of their lives. The secret was so well kept that many Art Deco enthusiasts still ignore that behind Schmied’s signature hides the hand of Miklos.
Why would Miklos agree to give up the most productive years of his career to Schmied, according to the chosen terms of his widow? The arrangement benefited both men, though we may assume that such a decision was very difficult for Miklos to make. He resigned himself to financial security, as opposed to pursuing the uncertain path of singular artistic success, a road often marked by selfishness. As a son and brother, Miklos undertook important family responsibilities; he needed to provide for his loved ones, whose marked destitution in Hungary upset him endlessly. Miklos sacrificed potential fame for the basic needs of his family. With the promise of a comfortable income, Miklos not only gave up all of his graphic production to Schmied, but he also agreed to Schmied’s signature on his works. Miklos knew that he alone could not contact bibliophiles, nor could he convince them to financially support his work. With this contract, Miklos agreed to be the ghost designer of a man who would crown himself in the laurels of fame with unconcealed pride. Miklos thus joined a cohort of fellow writers whose literary sphere was particularly rich.
For his part, François‐Louis Schmied drew his glory from the imagination of an inspired artist, thus overcoming the graces he had not received at birth. The engraver had grasped the omnipotence of the signature, that which leaves an indelible mark on history. While some creators do not sign their works, because it is obvious that the pieces are the fruit of their hand, Schmied never forgot to affix his name under “his” drawn production, in a symbolic gesture signifying full and complete appropriation. He could then boast of being the complete man of the book, from its conception to its manufacture: the invenit and the delineavit but also the sculpsit and the excudit. Schmied thus remains, in the eyes of bibliophiles, a genius of the twentieth century: an artist, engraver and printer.
Schmied Commission, Miklos Authorship
Two notable elements of the present lot La Rivière Enchantée (Enchanted River) attribute authorship to Miklos. First, a notebook entitled “Works carried out for François since the year 1922” attests to Miklos’ graphic work made exclusively for his patron. On the first page, we learn that he received 8,000 Francs that year. He lists deposits and monthly payments through 1941, providing brief detail of the work performed for each financial recording. However, notes from 1932 onward do not allow for precise investigations into the commissions from this period, whether they were for books or works of decorative arts. His notebook reveals, amongst several other works, bindings for Daphne, for Création, watercolors for Sucre, for Vérité, for Ulysse. The notes from 1932 onward are more vague; however, in March of that year, there is reference to both the mention Arbre de la Connaissance (Tree of Knowledge) and the Arbre de Vie (Tree of Life), two projects of impressive enameled panels executed by the Baudin foundry and signed Schmied. We therefore know that Schmied commissioned Miklos to create sketches for all the enamel works he produced.
Schmied was undoubtedly inspired by Jean Dunand’s grandiose lacquer decorations for the Normandie liner, a symbol of French industrial triumph, made during the same period as La Rivière Enchantée. However, unliked Dunand, Schmied selected the enameled cast iron technique to execute the work. Likely impressed by Les Arbres, Laurent Monnier, director of the foundry, commissioned La Rivière Enchantée to adorn a reception room of his Paris apartment. An artistic and technical triumph, La Rivière was exhibited at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1932 and at the Pavillon de Marsan in 1934, alongside Arbre de la Connaissance and Arbre de Vie. Miklos had a long history of working in enamel. In the 1920s he made delicate enameled works to the delight of the refined Doucet.
The second piece of evidence that attributes the present lot to Miklos rests within the repository of archival documents, bequeathed by Miklos’ widow, including preparatory drawings of the works published under Schmied’s name, annotated models, and tracings which unequivocally return authorship to Miklos. Among these, a document in Schmied’s workshop confirms that Miklos drew the enameled cast iron panel presented here. The illustration renders Homer’s Odyssey as imagined by Miklos in early 1930 and includes his handwritten instructions for the printer. The background of the colored print shows the wall decoration of the palace that inspired the Rivière Enchantée, its stylized design evoking the torments of a mountain storm, rather than a peaceful river flowing through the hollow of a valley. Laurent Monnier deeply admired Miklos, from whom he acquired a handful of sculptures, including Tête de Reine and L’Homme et son Destin; however, Monnier was unaware that his Rivière was in fact the creation of Miklos.
An Exceptional Artistic Partnership
Today, Art Deco collectors are expressly informed of Miklos’ authorship in works attributed to Schmied. Phillips is the first auction house to restore authorship to Miklos, making a pioneering gesture in the art market. Miklos and Schmied leave behind a legacy of beauty and elegance. The partnership between these two artists greatly enriched the French decorative arts during the interwar period.
The Rivière Enchantée was offered by Phillips Auction on June 7th 2022, under the lot 36.
Art historian, Art Deco expert, Secretary of the Gustave Miklos Committee.
from French to English, translated by Phillips Auction.