EDWARD COLONNA

(b. Germany, Edouard Klonne 1862-1948)

Renowned Art Nouveau furniture, jewelry and objets d’art designer and architect, EDWARD COLONNA, was German-born and raised,  studied architecture in Brussels, Belgium, became an American citizen, lived in Canada for several years, and had the artistic soul of a Frenchman.

Colonna was born in Muhlheim near Cologne (Koln), Germany in 1862. He studied architecture in Brussels and in 1882 he moved to the United States. There he found a position with Associated Artists, a group of interior decorators headed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and participated in the interior design for real estate businessman Ogden Goelet and shipping magnate Charles Flint.

From 1884-85 he worked for the fashionable New York architect, Bruce Price. In 1885,with Price’s help, he settled in Dayton, Ohio and worked for Barney and Smith Manufacturing Company, where he designed railroad cars. While there he published, at the age of 25, the slender book,  Essay on Broom-Corn (1887). Its intricate lettering and bold designs show hints of early aspects of Art Nouveau.

Just a year later, in 1888, after filing papers to become an American citizen, he established an office in Montreal and worked primarily for the Canadian Pacific Railway. This work included architectural designs for train stations as well as an elaborate sleeping car he created especially for the train exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

Colonna was an active participant in exhibitions in the United States and Canada during this time. He was a member of the Architectural League of New York, entered exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Art, and belonged to the Montreal Art Association.

In 1893, in a turning point year and the end of his early career, Colonna left the U.S. for Europe and, in his own words, found “a more modernistically inclined public.” Following a few mystery-shrouded years in Colonna’s life, he emerged in 1897 as a designer for the well-known scholar, merchant and connoisseur of fine taste, Sigfried Bing, in Paris. Bing was already established as a gallerist and had his gallery on rue de Provence et rue de Chauchat redesigned in order to launch “L’Art Nouveau” on December 26, 1895. His announced program was one of uniting the fine and decorative arts, and the gallery was billed as the only permanent collection of decorative arts in Paris.

The name “L’Art Nouveau”, simply “new art” or “modern art” became the name of the turn-of-the-century style which today we describe as being hallmarked by undulating, whiplash lines with stylized floral and organic imagery, some totally abstract, and all with an elegant rhythm. Colonna’s years with L’Art Nouveau proved to be the pinnacle of his career and his designs adopted the characteristic whiplash curve of the period with elegance and appeal to the French sense of luxury. He often applied stylized bontanical forms as he designed jewelry, furniture, carpets and porcelain objects.

Colonna joined L’Art Nouveau Bing along with Eugene Gaillard and Georges de Feure, to form the trio of major designers. Bing directed this team to create designs which would be both modern and appealing to the French. Colonna’s designs spoke to the French sense of luxury and elegance and he often employed botanical forms with gently curvilinear lines. Following a time of creating individually crafted jewelry pieces, Colonna advanced to the design of large scale opjects, furniture and accessories.

His designs won him a silver medal at the The Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, and another at the Turin Exposition of 1902.

Although L’Art Nouveau achieved high esteem among critics, it did not fare as well with the public. Bing, to his regret, closed its doors in 1903 and retired. Colonna’s artistic life, which had relied on Bing, changed abruptly and he returned to North America. He continued to work as an architect, artist, art dealer, antique dealer and designer. His later life seems to have been productive, and he lived to the age of 86, but the robust flowering of his career were the short years between 1897 and 1903. He died in Nice in 1948.