Edward Colonna Collection

About this collection

The Edward Colonna Collection is part of the William J. Dane Fine Prints Collection in the Special Collections Division of The Newark Public Library. The collection of drawings was given to the Library by the artist in 1923.
The collection consists of drawings, information files, photographs, and a copy of Essay on Broom Corn. The large cache of drawings, photographs, and correspondence housed in the Newark Public Library is a primary source of information about Edward Colonna’s life and career.

Biographical Note

Edward Colonna was one of the foremost Art Nouveau designers in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He was born in 1862 in Mulheim-am-Rhein, a small town outside Cologne, Germany, the first of three children in his father's second family. At the age of 15, he left home to study architecture in Brussels, Belgium. In 1882, Colonna left Europe and moved to New York, where he found work with Louis C. Tiffany, one of the country’s leading decorating consultants. Colonna’s first commissions were the interiors of homes for a number of wealthy New York patrons. After a few years, he left Tiffany and began a position with the New York architect Bruce Price.

In 1885, Colonna started a new job as chief designer for the Barney & Smith Manufacturing Co. of Dayton Ohio. The high point of Colonna’s career in Dayton was the publication of two small books containing some of his early designs. The first book was titled, Essay on Broom Corn and the second was Materiae Signa, Alchemistic Signs of Various Materials in Common Usage. Nearly the entire stock of Essay on Broom Corn was destroyed in a warehouse fire; fortunately, the Newark Public Library holds a signed copy in its collection.

In 1888, Colonna left the employment of Barney & Smith. He returned to New York City and became a citizen of the United States. He then continued on to Montreal, Canada, where he established his own office. While in Canada, Colonna worked on a number of projects for the Canadian Pacific Railway. His job was to design the interior of the railways parlor and sleeping cars. Through this, Colonna returned to the architectural design of his early discipline. He was commissioned to design many of the Canadian Pacific's western sector railroad stations and also acquired remodeling projects and commissions among the Canadian Pacific's management.

By the late 1890s, Colonna’s commissions for Canadian Pacific slowed as railroad expansion slowed. By 1897 Colonna was working for Siegfried Bing, a German-French art dealer who played a strong role in the development of the Art Nouveau style and was the owner of the Paris art gallery, Maison de l'Art Nouveau. While working for Bing, Colonna designed jewelry and decorative glassware, and later advanced to furniture design and other large-scale objects with the long sinuous organic curves of vegetable-inspired forms, typical of the Art Nouveau movement.

In 1903, Maison de l’Art Nouveau closed for good and Colonna returned to Canada and moved to Toronto. Over the next twenty years, he continued to design interior decorations with some minor commissions but it was clear that his work was now regulated by the customers’ demands rather than his own concepts. Colonna also traveled regularly to Italy, Germany, France, England, and New York City, selling antiques which provided him to live comfortably.

In 1923, Colonna retired to Nice in southern France at the age of 61. His health was beginning to deteriorate but nevertheless, he returned to his antiques business while acting as an agent locating items for various museum collections. Colonna’s health continued to decline and by 1928 his legs were completely paralyzed and he was bedridden. Even so, Colonna continued to draw monograms and carved alabaster bowls, vases and candlesticks as a way to retain his income, selling some works through his antiques business or through former business colleagues. He died in 1948 at the age of 86 and is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Nice, France.

Acknowledgments

The library would like to extend its thanks to Emma Crist, who assisted in scanning and creating a finding aid for the Edward Colonna Archive.