Abolishing the boundary between fine art and decorative art, between sculpture and ceramics, between what is beautiful and thought-provoking and what is useful and requires craftsmanship. This was the aim of the artists who claimed to be part of Art Nouveau at the turn of the 20th century. This vase is a perfect example. Made in the Paris workshop of the Mougin brothers, it is the work of sculptor Jules Aimé Grosjean. In this perfect blend of the useful, the beautiful and the intellectual, Mougin and Grosjean created a work that is neither that of a ceramist nor a sculptor. This total work inspires contemplation as much by its subject - the ages of life intertwined throughout the body - as by its material and surface effects.
The theme addressed by Jules Grosjean is hardly new, and has its origins in Greek and Roman antiquity. Over the centuries and in different interpretations, the number of ages has varied: three, four, six, seven, ten or twelve. This division of life into major periods has survived the centuries.
Titian's Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence gives a fresh interpretation of this division, showing only the faces and superimposing them on animal mouths.
Grosjean also depicts three ages. But Grosjean overturns the codes. The number three, associated with the Holy Trinity, the three continents, the Holy Family and the Three Wise Men, loses its religious symbolism and takes on a more metaphysical meaning.
Instead of depicting a young man, a middle-aged man and an old man, Grosjean's composition is free of historicism and heavily influenced by the Symbolist movement. Grosjean owes much of this influence to his teacher Ernest Barrias.