Monday, May 18, 2009

Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique

Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique is the first comparative study of the work of the three greatest jewelry and decorative arts designers at the turn of the 20th century: Peter Carl Fabergé, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and René Lalique. Fabergé, Tiffany, and Lalique found their rivalry at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris—the only exposition where all three showed simultaneously and where the work of each was prominently displayed. Some of their most elaborate designs for the Paris World’s Fair are reunited for the first time in a gallery recreating the ambiance of this opulent international exposition. Looking critically at the development, design, and marketing of each firm, this exhibition explores how these designers responded to the demand for luxury goods in the years leading up to World War I.
• Preamble to the exhibit at the Legion of Honor, 2009
We finally got our chance to go to this fabulous exhibition … and we were definitely not disappointed. One word will suffice … WOW! These artistic pioneers represent three diverse cultural backgrounds and a variety of artistic media, yet all of them pushed their chosen modes of expression beyond the boundaries that had been established for so long. The decorative arts of their day were built on reproducing and parsing of past principals of design, borrowing and enriching those designs, but rarely breaking free from the restrictions of the past.

L' Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris was the World’s Fair held in Paris, along with the 1900 Olympic Games. The Exposition, where the world showed off its finest, hosted close to 76,000 exhibitors and 50 million visitors. Many of the fabulous buildings built for the exposition still support the arts and infrastructure of Paris. The show spread onto both sides of the Seine and from the Gare de Lyon (which still serves the regions south of Paris) to the Gare d'Orsay (which is now the Musée d'Orsay).
This exhibit at the San Francisco Museum at the Palace of the Legion of Honor ends May 31st. Catch it if you can. Not only is the exhibit worth the trip, the Legion of Honor commands one of the most spectacular settings of any art museum in the world. Views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End are as inspiring as the art.
Peter Carl Faberge re-introduced to the world the vast treasures of Russian artistic craftsmanship and materials: brilliant enamel guilloche on silver and gold; sensitively carved lapis and nephrite; semiprecious stones from the hinterlands of the Russian empire. We all know of the sensational Faberge Easter eggs, but this exhibit reveals the many other forms of decorative artistry that the House of Faberge created.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, and his father Charles Lewis Tiffany, created not just the famous Tiffany stained glass and bronze lamps, but so much more in the world of jewelry, stained glass windows, silver service sets and art glass. While most of their output was for the wealthy clientele in the American market, Tiffany set up shops in London and Paris as well. Tiffany & Co., in fact, retailed items made by its contemporaries Faberge and Lalique at times.

Rene Lalique combined classic French decorative ideals with new materials and innovative, free-flowing designs in his early jewelry. He used such common materials as horn and glass in many of his most seductive pieces. In fact, seduction, nature and natural elements were at the core to so much of his work. After the Paris 1900 Exhibition, Lalique concentrated his efforts to creating art glass objects and shortly thereafter abandoned the field of jewelry. His jewelry designs were at the core of the Art Nouveau era, and his glass designs set the stage for what became known as Art Deco.


While the show was focused on these three artist-innovators, brief excursions into their contemporaries adds context and contrast to the exhibit. Gorham, Mucha and Cartier are among those included in these side exhibits.

Here are a couple of links to slide shows of some of the articles in the exhibit, just in case you cannot make the show in person: Cleveland Museum, the first stop for this exhibition; Luxist, an art blog. This is an excellent review of the Legion on Honor exhibit. Here are more photos from L' Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris.

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