PALM BEACH, FL-- René Lalique is best known for his glass creations – works that, aided by exposure from massive architectural collaborations with the Normandie Luxury Liner and Côte d’Azur Pullman Express carriages, went on to define the Art Deco movement. Lalique’s aesthetic became the vocabulary of Art Deco, echoed across common articles like light fixtures, cocktail shakers, perfume bottles and car hood ornaments. Even so, Lalique’s designs in glass represent the second and arguably less impressive half of his career when compared to his jewelry masterpieces of the late 19th and early 20th century.
During the Art Nouveau period, Lalique was designing jewelry with sinuous metalwork, organic color and material compositions and fantastical, dimensional designs often inspired by the flora and fauna of his native Champagne, France. A trained artisan in the diamond and precious gem set high-cut ‘brightwork’ of joaillerie, Lalique began his career as a freelance artist working for established houses like Boucheron and Cartier. Lalique’s jewelry pieces elevated previously disdained materials like sard, jasper, coral, opals and horn at a time when jewelry was intended to be a symbol of wealth conveyed via gold, pearls, diamond and precious stones. From the beginning his interest was in translating perspective and depth, often resulting in designs deemed too avante-garde for the more traditional houses.
By 1890, Lalique had established his own atelier and gained the attention of the intellectual elite and fashion-forward socialites, artists and performers alike. Patronage from the actress Sarah Bernhardt, for whom Lalique made massive stage adornments, helped him ascend to even greater notoriety.
Lalique’s preview at the Exposition Universelle in 1900 marked what is now considered the peak of his jewelry career. His contemporary and fellow jeweler, Henri Vever, summarized Lalique’s widely discussed and critiqued Exposition Universelle display: “Thanks to Lalique, the bijou has once again become an art object…jewelry as bijou could, through the beauty of workmanship, the originality of its artistic form and composition, acquire a value far superior to that of the precious materials employed...”
Lalique’s focus shifted from jewelry to glass when, in 1909, he opened a glass factory on Combe-la-ville near Paris. Three years later, he would put on his last jewelry show. It is common belief that the change was due in some part to a gradual loss of his close eye sight, which made the small work of jewelry difficult; however, Lalique’s transition to glass artist from jeweler was also rooted in his fascination with the vitreous enamel – or “painted glass” – that was the cornerstone of his jewelry designs. Vever noted that “Lalique exploited, in his effort to give form to the life of animals and plants, to their germination and birth, blossoming and maturity, and final withering, every technical resource offered by enamel, with its exceptional chromatic range and natural rapport with gold, silver, diamonds and colored stones. His preference was plique-a-jour enamel because it allowed light to pass through it thus giving a piece life and movement.”
For Lalique, glass served as a replacement material, easier to produce than relief enamel and less time consuming than a carved stone like rock crystal. The workability, transparency and potential finishes that glass allowed quickly made it a staple of many of Lalique’s jewelry designs and eventually led him to define the design principles of the Art Deco movement as a glass artist.
Auction October 21, 2021 at Noon
Palm Beach Preview: Oct 5-7, 208 Brazilian Ave, Palm Beach, FL, [email protected]
New York Exhibition: Oct 16-18
Featured in the October 21 auction is a selection of exceptional pieces by René Lalique.