On Friday, I spent several hours at the Winter Antiques Show exploring the well-groomed maze of booths filled with rare collectibles from paintings and decorative arts to furniture and fine jewelry. One of the few jewelry exhibitors at this antiques fair, the London-based dealer Wartski brought several fine jewels as well as its esteemed collection of Fabergé pieces, among them a rare Art Nouveau brooch.
Prominently displayed in a case on the wall of the booth, the circular corsage ornament radiates in soft and bright colors, immediately commanding one’s attention. Upon further inspection, the intricately designed brooch comes alive under the spotlight as its nature-inspired decorative motifs form a colorful halo for the delicate miniature of a female at its center. Set in alluring yellow gold, the magnificent gem-set and enamel jewel is by Georges Fouquet, the miniature portrait and design by the Czech graphic artist Alphonse Mucha. Also noted on the description is that this piece is one of only four jewels created in collaboration with Mucha known to have survived.
The luxurious detailing of the ornament is indicative of the two artists’ fruitful collaboration that lasted from 1899 to 1901. Though short, these three years witnessed a fusion of creativity that produced not only some of Art Nouveau’s most lavish jewels but an unprecedented boutique that embodied the sumptuous spirit and fantastic frills of the Art Nouveau style. The boutique is now housed in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, and to see it in person is beyond words. Every detail, from the magnificent pair of peacocks behind the central counter to the ornate bronze accents throughout, epitomizes – oozes even – Art Nouveau.
Prior to Mucha designing the interior of Fouquet’s new boutique, the graphic artist first worked with the prominent French jeweler designing a series of elaborate jewels that would become part of Fouquet’s display at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Referred to as the father of Art Nouveau, Mucha’s distinctive body of work, including paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, inspired other areas of art to embrace the decorative luxuries of the “new art” style. Mucha’s opulent aesthetic harmonized with the new direction jewelry design was taking, evolving beyond the traditional settings adapted from the Louis XVI period.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Fouquet and Mucha inspired other jewelers to espouse the emerging Art Nouveau style based on the belief that a jewel’s beauty is derived from its artistic nature rather than its intrinsic value. While platinum was gaining favor for jewels in the Edwardian style, yellow gold was most often used in Art Nouveau’s elaborate designs – its warming tone paired nicely with the soft-colored enamels and gemstones.
The corsage ornament on display in Wartski’s booth at the Winter Antiques Show exemplifies this ground-breaking, though short-lived, period in the history of jewelry design as well as the pivotal partnership of Fouquet and Mucha and the magnificent Art Nouveau creations the pair produced.
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