“I love the world of an archivist,” John Derian says. Which, well, thank goodness: For his new capsule collection with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the artist had to sift through the two million archival papers in the meticulously kept cabinets of the museum’s Department of Drawings and Prints. Although he says he didn’t even see “the tip of the iceberg” of their vast holdings, he found more than enough inspiration to create 13 new decoupages, now on sale through the Met website. There are botanical cups with bugs and butterflies, plates adorned with deck-of-card-style hearts, and a tray inscribed with a line from a friendly letter written by Édouard Manet to fellow painter Eugène Maus, to name a few. (Manet playfully illustrated their correspondence with yellow-green apples.)
Each item ties back to a specific piece in the Met’s archive, ranging from the 16th to 19th century. That deck-of-card dish, for example, is a nod to late 18th century Claude Fayolle piquet cards, whereas a floral cake stand has its origins in a 1799 print from Sydenham Teak Edwards’s The Botanical Magazine. A cat paperweight, meanwhile, is an ode to an 1830s lithograph by Nathaniel Currier. Derian describes his collaboration with the Met as “beautiful and rare, with a bit of fun and charming, and some historic notes.”
The pieces are, yes, outwardly beautiful to any prospective buyer. But they hold far more than aesthetic value. Due to the fragile nature of the Drawing and Prints collection, many of these pieces aren’t—and may never be—on view to the public. However, with Derian’s new offerings, you can forever glimpse history from behind the glass.
Shop the collection, below: