Takayama 4: An Art Nouveau Surprise

47Walking back from the Hida village we almost missed what was a great experience, a small sign indicating the Hida Museum of Art, focussing on Art Nouveau and Art Décor. This hardly appears in the tourist guides but is a Japanese highlight (for us anyway). The exhibitions of varying Art Nouveau styles are held within a breath-taking modern building, black metal arranged around and through window spaces (who is the architect?). A walkway connects various displays, with marvellous views to the mountains. While there are extensive collections (made by a typically anonymous Japanese collector of immense wealth), the masterpiece around which the museum is designed is Rene Lalique’s fountain. It dates from October 1926, when the Champs-Elysees arcade was opened to great acclaim. A pair of Lalique fountains were set on a corridor style patio called “Gallery Lido”. The idea was for an ultra-modern 6 floor shopping precinct to rival the Place Vendome and L’Opera. The fountains were made of amethyst colour glass and metal with 4 panels, each of which has a motif of Acanthus leaves, above which were women figure who wore their hair long reaching to their feet and holding shells in their hands (the “source de la fountaine”).Lalique was a master jewellery designer during the Art Nouveau period. He applied lost-wax casting on glass works, which was a manufacturing process of jewellery, producing exquisite perfume bottles for Francois Coty. This led to the mass production of glass works (one room has a large collection of such bottles – great stuff). Unfortunately the Gallery Lido was pulled down just before the Great Depression. One of the pair of fountains was miraculously discovered in almost perfect condition in a suburban shed in Paris in 1989. It was restored by Lalique fans and was part of a travelling exhibition, which came to Tokyo in 1992, creating a sensation. Somehow it was purchased and is now living quietly in Takayama, protected from earthquakes by advanced technology. Glass, light and water are united. In a masterful way the light is brought to the domed ceiling, with constantly changing colours to complement the fountain coloration. Do see it if you can. More soon.

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