I visited the new Perrier-Jouët exhibition with the expectation of discovering a remarkable collection, one that connected contemporary art and treasured Art Nouveau pieces. I had heard of La Belle Époque immortalised in Champagne coupes, of Japanese anemone, of elegant stemware sprouting up from plinths like wildflowers. I saw all this and more, but what I didn’t expect was to be able to get as dangerously close to some of the exhibits as I did.
Épernay’s famous Avenue de Champagne is the location for Perrier-Jouët’s first ‘in-house’ exhibition. For those who’ve never visited, the street is a vinous Mulholland Drive: some of the most famous Champagne houses line its sides, declared subtly by golden plaques and intricately decorated metal gates. Perrier-Jouët is one of the avenue’s residents and its exhibition, Goûter le Monde, Le Banquet des Merveilles (English title: A Banquet of Wonders, Delighting in the World) is running now until 11 December 2023 at Château Perrier, which was renamed the Musée du vin de Champagne et d’Archéologie régionale in 2020.
Perrier-Jouët’s connection with the art world considerably predates a cursory name change for one of its buildings. The house’s fascination with art is as old as its ability to produce wine. Third-generation owner Henri Gallice inherited a love of the art world from his uncle, Charles Perrier, who built Château Perrier between 1854 and 1857. It was Gallice’s fervent passion for art-collecting that kindled a friendship with Émile Gallé, an artist and one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. In 1902, Gallice commissioned Gallé to decorate a Champagne magnum with pink and gold Japanese anemones, creating the unmistakable emblem of Perrier-Jouët in the process. Together, Perrier and Gallice laid the foundations of Perrier-Jouët’s art collection, which has since become Europe’s largest of Art Nouveau pieces. The brand has been synonymous with the movement ever since.
Goûter le Monde is an inquiry into this legacy, with a special interest in how art can be realised in everyday living. The exhibition is set across three floors, where spectacular furniture, tableware and other objects are displayed. It’s certainly possible to spend a whole day here, marvelling at each item in turn. Personal highlights included bowls that resemble blooming flowers, cutlery that looks as if it’s vibrating, wooden furniture formed from the natural growth of a tree and a resin jug with hogweed flowers for a handle.
Connected to the top floor is a large room in which an enormous dining table loops into an infinity symbol and a recording of the menu for a lavish dinner party being read aloud is played through a set of speakers. The table is adorned with the rest of the collection, which includes carafes, bowls, vases, forks, knives, butter dishes and vases. The display culminates in one of Gallé’s original painted magnums.
Remarkably, the magnum isn’t behind glass; it’s as if it has been placed on a table by a forgetful host who intends to return. I wonder how many people have touched it since Gallé completed his work. The bottle is over 100 years old but, corkless, it’s now filled with 21st-century air – the same air that’s in my lungs. And I am about to become more connected still.
As the sun sets behind the château, our party arrives at the reception held to celebrate the launch of the exhibition. We enter and a silver tray is presented, laden with glasses from Perrier-Jouët’s private collection. No two are the same; some are impractically tall and impossibly ornate, some plump and goblet-like. They’re just as precious as those on display – the only difference is I’m asked which one I’d like to drink from, a chance afforded to guests for this one night only. I choose a coupe wreathed with mistletoe, flecked with green and outlined in gold. When I’m told that it, too, is 100 years old, I nearly spit out my blanc de blancs. Although this opportunity won’t be available to all visitors, it’s a gesture that encapsulates the spirit of the exhibition, one that emphasises the value of these precious objects when used for their original, everyday purpose.
As a society, we revere precious items. We coddle them. We place them behind panes of glass with the hope that studying them can teach us something. But in doing so, we cease to use them as intended. Many objects are designed to be more than just pleasing to the eye; many, like those currently on display in this exhibition, are made to be used.
If you’re travelling to Épernay post-harvest this autumn, Goûter le Monde, Le Banquet des Merveilles is certainly worth visiting; this is an exhibition that stands as a testament to the idea that we can improve our daily lives by incorporating art into them. And if you love Champagne like I do, it feels fitting to honour and delight in some of the beautiful objects that have facilitated its enjoyment.
Goûter le Monde, Le Banquet des Merveilles is open at Château Perrier (Musée du vin de Champagne et d’Archéologie régionale), Épernay, until 11 December 2023. Visit the official website for further details.