Artist and naturalist, Robert Dallet devoted his life to drawing animals from every continent of the globe, from pumas and ocelots to elephants, parakeets and ibis. He made sketch after sketch, tirelessly observing the captivating carnival that unfolded before him, studying every element of their habitat – trees, vegetation, landscapes. His discovery of the margay, a small, graceful felid from South America, led him to reserve a special place for wild cats in his evolving bestiary, to the point of painting a comprehensive inventory of felines, such was his boundless admiration for animal beauty.
This unique inventory, which was to be displayed in the natural history museums of Rouen then Paris, was his life’s work. It comprises eighty plates depicting every species of felid, including those no longer extant, sometimes reconstructed from nothing more than a blurred photograph or a scrap of fur. His visual acuity and the precision of his line express the love and respect that motivated him. Bountiful nature, strikingly life-like fur, his innate and continually honed sense of movement and setting make these plates an irreplaceable record of the animal kingdom.
For Dallet, to reproduce the grace of haunches in motion, the depth of a gaze, was to pay homage to the splendour of the world. When, in 1984, the artist met Jean-Louis Dumas, CEO of Hermès from 1978 to 2006, a meeting of minds between two passionate men was a foregone conclusion. Two scarf designs, Kenya and Équateur, were the first successful results of this encounter, marking the start of a collaboration that would last a quarter of a century. It is a partnership that lives on to this day with the creation of Carnets d’Équateur, porcelain tableware created in tribute to the talent of Robert Dallet.
To discover the Carnets d’Équateur tableware is to return to the first morning on Earth and to call the name of each of the wild creatures depicted with fierce intensity by Robert Dallet. There are the well-known – the jaguar, lion, tiger, elephant and toucan alongside the rare – the mazama, capuchin monkey and woolly monkey. Life is at once teeming and peaceful, the essence of an earthly paradise. This paradise leads us to the discovery of another world, that of the artist. His studio is present at our table, recounting its tale, from first sketch to finished work. Compositions proliferate, monkeys swing out of reach, birds take flight, patterns flourish and recur, moulding to the curves of the porcelain, gracing bowl and cup. The sketches, meanwhile, by their clarity of line and by the occasional effect of superimposed white, like chalk, evoke the work of history’s primal draughtsmen.
Every leaf, every blade of grass, every creeper, every gaze, every detail of fur and feather is drawn with extraordinary precision and takes on a subtle radiance. Robert Dallet’s talent is preserved in every aspect. Sketches in charcoal, pencil, or wash, gouache colour, hyper-realistic rendering in paint – each piece of porcelain is dedicated to one of these techniques, which complement each other on the table in serene graphic and chromatic concordance. The Carnets d’Équateur service is a voyage to the core of creation.
Colour intensifies both drawing and expression in equal measure. Warm and cool by turns, it also allows white to find its voice in subtly off-set compositions, while celadon – a symbolic hue intimately linked to the history of porcelain brings both strength and softness. A grey-green with the merest hint of blue, its soothing presence blends the muted freshness of foliage with the luminous warmth of fur. From the diversity of techniques and the harmony of compositions, plenitude emerges. From one piece to the next, from vital, colourful profusion to sensitive portraiture, is woven the intense contemplation of creation. Carnets d’Équateur, an artist’s sketchbooks.