My review on the Artistic Luxury Exhibit at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco featuring Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique.
In 1900 three of the world’s greatest designers of luxury goods displayed their creations at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and left an impact on the world with their innovation of unique art. Paris became known as the “City of Lights” when the Eiffel Tower was lit for the world’s fair.
Displayed together once again as in 1900, The Legion of Honor presented an exhibition with the work of Peter Carl Faberge, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique February 7 – May 31, 2009.
As I walked through the exhibit admiring the art objects and jewelry once displayed together in Paris I imagined what it would’ve been like to have been there seeing this work unveiled for the first time. It would have been thrilling and overwhelming—especially with the Parisian celebration. Each object is so beautiful, special and with its own story it is impossible to write about it all. I’ve chosen to review some of my favorites and some with special historical impact.
Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the pieces are on loan from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, The Forbes Collection, Tiffany & Co. Archives, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and many more lenders which are listed in the Catalog “Artistic Luxury” published by the Cleveland Museum of Art 2008.
The exhibit opened with the House of Faberge’s Imperial Blue Serpent Egg presented to Maria Feodorovna in 1887. Inspired from a French desk clock by Jean Andre Lepaute circa 1785, the hour time is read by the point of the serpent’s tongue. The House of Faberge made magnificent jewels for the royal family as well as the eggs, hard stone carvings and furniture.
Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna received this incredible Faberge creation, The Imperial Lilies of the Valley Basket, on the occasion of her husband’s coronation. Shown at the Exposition Universelle in 1900 and today at the Legion of Honor is a delicate basket of lilies of the valley pearl and diamond flowers with jade leaves all nested in a basket of spun gold.
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna had a passion for Faberge’s flowers in vases created from gem hard stones, enameling and crystal. These beautiful flower bouquets helped to brighten the long winter days in Russia. Russian mineral deposits of jasper, lapis, malachite discovered in theeighteenth century provided Faberge the materials to create miniatures of animals and heros.
The Trellis Egg is one of my favorite eggs produced by Faberge. The different colors of the enameling are more vibrant and rich in texture than any photographs can show. The Imperial Rose Trellis Egg was given to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna by Nicholas II in 1907.
The workmanship in the trellis egg is intricate and difficult to produce because of the intense heat needed for the enamelling. First the gold egg is handcrafted and guilloche engraved, enameled in a pale green, a trellis with small diamonds is applied and again pink enameled roses applied and leaves of gold added at the end of the process, all fused together with different melting points temperature of heat. The surprise inside the egg was a miniature portrait of the Tsarevich on a diamond necklace.
The large gemstone elegant jewelry created with Siberian Aquamarines and Amethysts mined in Russia were very popular at the winter balls. Russians were proud to wear gems mined from their own mountains. One of the most spectacular large Siberian Aquamarine jeweled pin designed by Faberge is in the motif of a thistle. The stem and leaves are paved in diamonds with the Aquamarine as the flower of the thistle.
One of the important pieces at the exhibit is owned by our Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. A complete tea and coffee service set made in silver and ivory incorporated in the Karelian style table made of birch wood with ornate silver trim represents the artistic work and grace of the time.
Rene Lalique, one of the most famous jewelers in France, was known for his extraodinary renditions of nature using materials ranging from precious diamonds and gems to non precious materials such as horn, shell and coral. Lalique established his reputation first as a jeweler then moved exclusively into glass making as opposed to Tiffany who started in glass and eventually joining his family as a jewelry designer. The work that Lalique created was enormous during his life. Several of the items that were in this exhibit were also displayed in the French Masters which I wrote about in another post.
I was amazed to see the intricate details of these combs that resembled real flowers. A Vibumum branch carved in hard stone with tiny diamonds form realistic flower clusters that sparked like drops of water in the sun, we can just imagine how beautiful it looked against the softness of hair. The Lalique items that impressed me the most were the hair combs that were jewelry for the hair.
My favorite Lalique piece at the exposition is this carved ivory cattleya orchid hair comb. The petals are carved so delicately and to perfection that the light penetrates the petal, exactly as if they were real.
Native American motifs were very popular at the turn of the century and Tiffany created a series of silver bowls based on the pottery and basket styles of the Native Americans. I found this bowl to be magnificent in the quality and beautiful contrast of the textured patinas of silver and darkened lines with the cool blue turquoise.
Louis Comfort Tiffany displayed the firm’s Favrile glass which became extremely popular at the time. The glass vases had abstract flower and feather motifs as well as accented shapes.
The stained glass window “Magnolia” designed by Agnes Northrop, chief designer of flower motif stained glass for Tiffany, was displayed at the Exposition in Paris. Originally purchased from the exposition for the Stieglitz Museum of Decorative & Applied Arts in St. Petersburg, the Magnolia window is currently in the Hermitage Museum.
Tiffany created lamps in many creative motifs such as mushrooms, spider webs, peacock feathers and several types of flowers. The shades were Favrile glass and the base of the lamps were engraved, made of glass or had stones to continue the motif of the entire lamp as an art form. My favorite example of this is the Poppy lamp with green oval stones in the base, it reflects a typical art noveau style at the time that originally inspired by Mucha.
This exhibit was not only a walk through an historic event but it was also thrilling to view perfect creative work at one time, too much to absorb and all so inspiring.
I recommend purchasing the catalog “Artistic Luxury”, (follow the link below) for many other interesting related stories and with terrific photos which was also a source for my review.
Janet Deleuse, All Rights Reserved, 06/19/,2009
Photo Credits: Artistic Luxury, Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique
Stephen Harrison, Emmanuel Ducamp, and Jeannine Falino with contributions by Christie Mayer Lefkowith, Pilar Velez, Catherine Walworth and Wilfried Zeisler
Getty Images Credits