Bijoux Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris

I was thrilled to learn that my local art museum, Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, was to stage an exhibition of French jewelry this summer. Bijoux Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris was the Joslyn’s first jewelry exhibition and their first partnership with a Parisian museum. The exhibition featured 70 pieces of jewelry and luxury accessories and over 100 works on paper from the Petit Palais’ collection. The Petit Palais’ Parisian heritage was an important factor within the exhibition since Paris has been home to a continuous tradition of jewelry production since the Renaissance. Bijoux Parisiens highlighted over 300 years of French jewelry innovation and creativity and placed the precious stones and luxury items in a historical context to emphasize the way in which French jewelry reflects the aristocratic wearer’s position in society and the designer’s creativity. While some of the artifacts spotlighted artists who are lost to history, others pointed to the mastery of France’s famous jewelry maisons such as Boucheron, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Through its use of contemporary fashion plates and prints from popular French magazines, Bijoux Parisiens also highlighted the intimate relationship between jewelry and fashion. The sartorial aspect of the exhibition was clear from the beginning as the first section of wall-text was accompanied by an 1884 portrait of a young woman by artist Paul Baudry. The painting’s subject, Madame Louis Singer, wears an off-the-shoulder black gown with delicate ruffles down the skirt and a bustle. The sumptuousness of her dress is enhanced by her jewelry, a diamond and pearl brooch at her bosom, double-strand pearl bracelet, sapphire and diamond ring, and dainty diamond earrings. The combination of Madame Singer’s smart black dress and glittering jewelry announce her as a woman of refined taste and high status.

Organized chronologically, the exhibition began with engravings by Gilles L’Égaré dating to the 1660s. These drawings of various ring and chain designs were produced to train apprentices and mark the artist’s ownership of the designs. The earliest piece in the exhibition was a pendant of gold, enamel, rubies, and pearls. I was struck by the intricacy and scale of this pendant, which was about three inches tall and featured a woman embracing two children, symbolizing the Christian virtue of charity. Both the early drawings and jewelry pieces set the tone for an innovative and ornate exhibition.

There was little evidence of  eighteenth-century splendor in the exhibition, but a large portion of Bijoux Parisiens was dedicated to nineteenth-century France and the link between its tumultuous political climate and jewelry aesthetics. Napoleon’s reign ended the repression of luxury during the French Revolution and encouraged the privilege of excess. The renewed production of jewelry, like the visual arts and fashions of the period, featured neoclassical designs and a revival of ancient art. Cameo necklaces, bracelets, and brooches as well as drawings of cameos featured prominently in the exhibition. Cameos in particular were a staple of Napoleon’s court because they alluded to antiquity and displayed wealth while their semi-precious materials were affordable to the aristocrats who were still recovering from the Revolution. Contemporary fashion illustrations from Germany in the exhibition show typical neoclassic, columnar gowns with deep necklines that made for easy display of large cameo necklaces such as the one below.

A wall broke Bijoux Parisiens into two distinctive spaces and appropriately separated twentieth-century artifacts from the earlier jewelry and forced visitors to pass a physical threshold into the turn of the century section of the exhibition. The radically different Art Nouveau style that dominated the turn of the century materialized in Bijoux Parisiens in jewelry and graphite drawings. An amazing selection horn and enamel hair pins and brooches by René Lalique exemplified the natural plant motifs and insect-adorned designs of the new style.

Perhaps my favorite artifacts in Bijoux Parisiens was the selection of color lithographs by George Barbier, Edouard Halouze, George Lepape, and Charles Jacqueau. The prints revealed the synergy between the radical fashions and jewelry designs of the early twentieth century. Works by Lepape from the Gazette du Bonton from 1912-1915 featured Paul Poiret’s radically simple and exotic styles such as his ‘lamp-shade’ dress and turban looks accessorized with equally elegant bangles and long necklace strands. The First World War slowed French jewelry production and wiped away aristocratic dynasties, leading to a new social order and new design aesthetics. Color lithographs from the 1920s expressed the new, modernized forms embraced by French jewelry designers. An ad for Van Cleef & Arpels illustrated by Edouard Halouze presents a woman surveying her Van Cleef & Arpels collection. The simple strands of pearls and bracelets she wears compliments the striking simplicity of her low-cut, bright red dress and in-vogue cropped hairstyle.

 

I adored this exhibition (so much so that I visited three times) and although the exhibition is now closed so I cannot suggest visiting, its display of French jewelry innovation sheds an important light on the intimate relationship between fashion, jewelry design and French history.

All photos by the author

Abby Fogle

Jewellery, Adornment and the Pursuit of Brilliance

Early 18th century diamond and gold necklace, Portuguese

Emerald and diamond girl dole brooch, c1830 and later

To Georg Simmel, adornment is a contradiction – on the one hand, it displays the wearer’s value, aesthetic taste, membership of a particular group, on the other, it is visible to the viewer, giving pleasure to her, as well as to the owner.  In his 1908 essay ‘On Adornment’, Simmel elaborates on this theme, outlining a spectrum, with tattoos at one end, since they are closest to the skin, and dress in between, moulded  by the wearer’s figure and marked by age, and finally, jewellery placed on the body, but separate from it.  Jewellery thus has special status, its uniqueness resides in its economic value, authenticity and style, but it always seems new, and supplementary to the wearer’s individuality.  While choice of fine jewels surely reflects personal taste, it is interesting to consider the ways gems interact with the wearer and add to her social value.

A case of sparking diamond and emerald jewels

I was reminded of Simmel’s essay when I visited Bonhams’ view day for an auction of fine jewellery last month.  Guided through the delicious rows of glittering rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches … by Emily Barber, Director of the Jewellery Department, I was continually struck by Simmel’s comments about the pleasure given to both wearer and viewer by these gems – a fleeting relationship created by the bright light reflected by a diamond brooch as you glance across a room, or the deep red glow of a spinel cut to display its clarity as the wearer moves her hands.  In so many interactions, jewellery catches the eye and draws our focus.

A spinel and diamond ring, c1915

Simmel describes how ‘the radiations of adornment, the sensuous attention it provokes, supply the personality with such an enlargement or intensification of its sphere: the personality, is more when it is adorned.’  As such, wearing fine jewellery is ‘a synthesis of the individual’s having and being,’ it implies wealth, but also personal qualities – of taste, discernment, perhaps even beauty and style matching the gems.  At the heart of this is jewellery’s ‘brilliance’:

‘By virtue of this brilliance, its wearer appears at the centre of a circle of radiation in which every close-by person, every seeing eye, is caught.  As the flash of the precious stone seems to be directed at the other – it carries the social meaning of jewels, the being-for-the-other, which returns to the subject as the enlargement of … [her] own sphere of significance.’

Gold, diamond and fire opal ‘cinnamon stick’ brooch/pendent by Andrew Grima, 1970

So, as you look at these photographs of the jewels I saw at a Bonhams, consider Simmel’s words and the ways that, once purchased, they might infer what the wearer has, but also who she is.  As Simmel notes, ‘Adornment, thus, appears as the means by which … social power or dignity is transformed into visible, personal elegance,’ – a magical process brought about by the jeweller’s skill at cutting and setting each gem.

With thanks to Emily Barber, all images by permission of Bonhams.

Sapphire, ruby, emerald and diamond brooch, Van Cleef & Arpels, c1970

Sources:

Fine Jewellery, 27 April 2017 (London: Bonhams, 2017)

Georg Simmel, ‘On Adornment,’ (1908), in Daniel Purdy, Ed., The Rise of Fashion: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp.79-84

The Memory Locket

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Jewellery is a term that every woman – and man – will recognise. It is how we, as individuals, are able to supplement our bodies through personal adornment with these small and often decorative items. Personalising our bodies can visually communicate to other people about our lives and circumstances. For example, the tradition of wearing a wedding ring is identified with the fourth finger of the left hand. The wedding ring is a sentiment to love, but can also indicate wealth based upon the elaborateness of the materials and stones used. The wedding ring is therefore a clear indicator of one’s marital status. However, one piece of visible jewellery that can be recognised as bearing a more sentimental and personal relationship to its wearer is the memory locket.

My memory locket is the one piece of jewellery I wear daily. It had previously belonged to my biological grandmother, after being presented as a gift from her closest friend on her wedding day. Such a gift can be recognised as celebratory because it provides a tangible memory and link to the couple’s marriage. This aspect of the tangible memory reflects Elizabeth Wilson’s focus on the idea of acknowledging clothing as ‘congealed memories.’ Wilson’s idea can especially be applied to the function of the memory locket with regards to storing photographs. The opening of the locket reveals the place where two photographs were kept: one of my grandmother and the other of my grandfather. Although the image of my grandfather remains in tact, unfortunately the image of my grandmother has disintegrated over the years. A sense of intimacy is created between the wearer and the locket when realising that photographs of family members are stored inside. This intimacy is further heightened with where the locket is worn. Lockets are generally worn on chains around the neck and so are kept very close to the wearer’s body, and especially the heart, further expressing the intimacy and sentimental relationship between locket and wearer.

The original function of the locket was to remember and honour the couples wedding day. However, once the locket changed hands, the sentiment changed. I had not known my biological grandparents, for they had died shortly after their marriage in 1960. Furthermore, when the locket came into my possession, it served more of a funerary purpose. Therefore, these changing sentiments can be considered as integral to connecting with the narratives of the past wearers. As a result, the memory locket can be understood as encapsulating the overlap of layers of memories based upon its history and relationship to the wearer.

Sources:
Elizabeth Wilson. Adorned in Dreams – Fashion and Modernity (London, 2003)