Last weekend I visited the Lalique exhibition at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague. René Lalique (1860-1945) started his career as an apprentice goldsmith at age 14 with Parisian jeweller Louis Aucoc. Between 1878 en 1880 he studied at the Sydenham Art College in Londen and after his return to Paris he worked for Aucoc again, as well as for Cartier and Boucheron. In 1882 Lalique started working as a freelance designer for several companies, and opened his own company only four years later. By 1890 Lalique was considered one of the most important jewellery designers of French Art Nouveau.
Around 1895, Lalique presented his jewellery for the first time at Parisian Salons, and at Sigfried Bing‘s famous gallery La Maison de l’Art Nouveau. The jewellery was so innovative, that he was soon considered ‘the inventor of Modern Jewellery’, and with his new shop at the Place Vendôme, Lalique was located right in the heart of worldly Paris. He designed the most interesting pieces of Art Nouveau jewellery – inspired by nature and the female physique – and decorated them with ‘modern’ materials like pearls, plique-à-jour enamel, semi-precious stones, leather, shells, horn and glass. As a result, not only actors like Sarah Bernhardt and Lucien Guitry wanted to flaunt with Lalique’s unusual jewellery; also the ‘ordinary’ rich people wanted to be seen with his rings and necklaces, decorated with dragonflies, gargoyles, snakes and naked women (to see a few examples, click here). Lalique’s most important customer was Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian businessman and philanthropist who by the end of his life had become one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and his art acquisitions considered one of the greatest private collections.
With that in mind, I was quite disappointed about the exhibition at first. I had expected to see a lot of the exquisite jewellery that made Lalique famous and it turned out there was hardly any jewellery. One of the few pieces of jewellery on display was a 1895 ring with a gargoyle trying to drink in a stone, symbolising a sheer impossible task.
It turned out the exhibition mostly comprised pieces of “high-quality machine-made art objects of glass with an air of luxury”. Lalique’s partnership with the top end of the French perfume industry (Cartier, Boucheron and others) had brought rapid changes in his oeuvre. Next to designing bottles for perfume manufacturers, he soon started to sell mass-produced – and therefore affordable – decorative glass under his own label. Lalique chose the so-called cire perdue (lost wax) process to produce series and make his perfume bottles available to a wider public. Of course, commercially this was a very good idea, but on an artistic level I find his jewellery much more interesting. It is handmade, and each piece is unique. However, once I got over the initial disappointment, I could actually start to enjoy the pieces of glass.
Now don’t get me wrong, I found the designs of most objects really beautiful. But somehow I was bothered by the thought that moulded glass, which has been produced in series, was marketed as Art, and priced like Art. Only because it carried Laliques name. It’s almost like you would have to pay 10 million euro’s for a lithographic print of a Rembrandt painting. Maybe I am saying something profane here, but this really made it impossible for me to fully enjoy the exhibition.
Ignoring the above mentioned feelings, I admit that I did appreciated the designs, specifically the ones related to nature (fish, shells, dragonflies, flowers etc.). Lalique’s designs were without a doubt very beautiful. And my favorite piece was either the little perfume bottle (1938 – Cactus) Lalique designed as a promotional gift for the first class passengers of the Rotterdam Lloyd Shipping Company, or his dish with the dragonflies (approx. 1921). I can’t decide…
Therefore, should you be interested in an exhibition of Lalique GLASS, then I can recommend you the exhibition! It’s a shame that they didn’t display the glass in a more museum-like way (the lighting is terrible), because they do appear to know how to display the glass inferring from the book about the exhibition! The exhibition will be on display until 10 Nov 2013 at Gemeente Museum Den Haag (Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag).
Dissertatie Lennart Booij: De ontvangst van het werk van René Lalique (1860-1945) in Nederland
Kunstmuseum Den Haag
Gulbenkian Museum Lissabon
Lalique Museum Doesburg
Lalique Museum Hakone
René Lalique Auction-Collectors Website
Wikipage about Lalique