In 1898, the House of Mumm built cellars and offices close by the town hall, with two aims in mind: art and function. The building was the brainchild of architect Ernest Kalas and artist Auguste Guilbert-Martin and served as the headquarters of the Union des Maisons de Champagne from 1907 to 1914.
Let us look first at the facade. Built in local hard stone and red brick with an ornate frieze, the front of the building is particularly noted for its great opening dressed in granite, with its ornate sheet metal door surrounded by Falconnier glass bricks stamped with an eagle (the mark of the house) — a door expressly designed to admit enormous packing cases and gigantic barrels.
With no other openings to the road, the facade exudes a sense of grandeur and mystery, relieved in its upper part by the decorative frieze with its life-size images of Champagne winemaking from harvest all the way to dispatch.
Five panels are separated by stone caryatid sculptures, executed in enamel mosaic by GUILBERT-MARTIN, to templates by Messrs Joseph BLANC and GUILLONNET. The panels to each side represent work carried out by the light of day: harvest and dispatch. The three in the middle represent work carried out in the cellar.
Beautifully proportioned, the caryatid sculptures were executed by Joseph WARY of Reims, to models by Emile PEYNOT.
An interesting technique is used to link the very different settings represented by the five panels (the cellar and the open air). The idea of below-ground is suggested in the three middle panels by a walled background. For the two outer panels, the idea of light is suggested by a background sky effect. The panels are linked as a group by garlands of vine branches that run across the top of the frieze.
The human figures and their accessories are depicted with rigorous precision, which makes this a unique record of industrial work in France in the 19th Century.
The mosaic in 1cm enamel cubes captures all the subtleties of the original templates, right down to the likeness of the House workers who originally posed for these scenes. There is a wealth of ethnographic details contained within these images.
The vine branches are picked out in gold, which is also used to gild the inscriptions describing the operations depicted on the frieze. The four plinths that separate the panels proclaim the elevated sentiments inspired by Champagne wine:
Virtus, a warrior’s courage;
Extract from the architect’s project description (La construction moderne, 9-16 Septembre 1899, page 591)