Today, the terms “ironwork”, “wrought ironwork” and “wrought iron” are largely misused and have lost all of their true meaning.
Paradoxically, in the collective imagination these terms still provoke a certain quality of work, ancestral know-how, and ultimately a dream, lost in the era of excessive standardisation and exaggerated profitability.
Due to the lack of knowledge or the zeal of industrialists and salespeople who use the aura of this wonderful profession, it can be difficult for the customers to define the characteristics of this work regarding the many contemporary works called “wrought iron”.
For this reason, in the next few lines, I will attempt to explain what ironwork really is.
The term “ironwork“, the way we understand it today, namely “hot metal working” appeared in the mid-nineteenth century.
In fact, it was at the end of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century that wrought iron was at its peak thanks to the creation of stair railings, monumental gates and doorways (Versailles, Nancy…). Ironworkers and, more precisely, the “Locksmiths” of the time (“locksmith” being the term used at this time), were able to express themselves and artistically flourish and develop the profession.
At that time, there were no specific “Locksmith” artists, each one was a “simple craftsman who had the ability to surpass himself” *.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, “ironwork” somewhat declined with the appearance of cast iron (metal cast in a mould) which offered cheaper work. It was a renewal, a revival and an artistic liberation of the early twentieth century which propelled ironwork art to the peak of architectural and decorative art (Edgar Brandt, Paul Kiss, Raymond Subes, Poillerat… to name only the most famous).
So, what is ironwork?
Ironwork is the work of mainly hot metal using a forge, an anvil, and a hammer.
The metalworker completes the decorative elements necessary for his work, without resorting to prefabricated industrial elements.
Indeed, many people who use these “wrought iron” elements only assemble them. However, this does not take away from the seriousness of those who do this, nor the physical quality (solidity) of the piece, the work is undoubtedly and totally different.
The ironworker draws, designs, and forges all his decorations
starting from a raw laminated iron bar, using only his technical knowledge, his imagination, and his creativity.
*book source: la ferronnerie d’art du XXème siècle, Karin Blanc