Originally created 02/22/98

Lalique's original jewelry shines in traveling show



NEW YORK -- Frosted glass "doves" perch on gold olive branches set with diamonds in a brooch that the people of Paris gave Edith Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, in 1918, at the end of World War I.

The president was in Paris to conclude a peace agreement. The brooch was designed by the enormously successful and innovative jeweler Rene Lalique -- who'd originally conceived the birds as pigeons, easily reinterpreted as doves to make the brooch fit the occasion.

The brooch now belongs to the Smithsonian Institution; the original design sketch belongs to the Lalique Museum in Paris -- and the two have come together in the traveling exhibition, The Jewels of Lalique, which has opened at Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian's National Design Museum in New York.

Its itinerary will include Washington (May 15-Aug. 15) and Dallas (Sept. 13-Jan. 10).

Motifs far more dramatic than pigeons grab the visitor's attention -- tigers prowl around a tawny gold, horn and agate necklace on loan from the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, has lent an enamel buckle shaped as the fierce heads of two sharp-beaked cocks.

In all, including other loans from American museums and private collectors, there are around 230 examples of jewelry, glass and drawings by Mr. Lalique (1860-1945), who became even more famous in his second career as glass maker.

Mr. Lalique revolutionized jewelry design with his inspired use of unusual forms -- dragons, bats and frogs, for example, as well as orchids and nymphs amid graceful arabesques of vines. He used materials such as mysterious opals, horn, even a kind of early plastic, in his sinuous art nouveau designs.

These designs make the whole structure a decorative element, far more than just a subdued setting for costly gems. And Mr. Lalique uses color, especially in enamel, like a painter -- his cool blues and greens shimmer, amber and dark browns glow and smolder.

"Lalique was the first to introduce color like that in jewels," exhibition curator Yvonne Brunhammer said. "When he began making jewelry, it was precious stones, gold, platinum, all white. Progressively, he went more and more into the use of color."

Mr. Lalique began his career in jewelry design as a 16-year-old apprentice, then designed jewelry for other makers before establishing his own workshop in 1885.

He channeled a variety of influences into his marvelously original designs, drawing from contemporary currents of interest: art nouveau styles already transforming other decorative arts, the fashion for Japanese art, a fascination with the exotic.

Ms. Brunhammer pointed out examples of Mr. Lalique's originality -- a tiara of copper-colored ivy leaves, fashioned from horn, gold diamonds and tortoiseshell; a brooch in elaborately carved artificial ivory, framed in enamel; a pendant of translucent engraved glass.

His use of synthetics hasn't been much noticed, Ms. Brunhammer said, but he was interested in many materials.

"When he introduced glass, he used it first as a substitute for gems," she said. "It was easier to model and cast than gems. It wasn't going to splinter.

"He loved the shapes, the relief, the translucence and colors he could get. Glass becomes a totally magical material -- it seems to be precious when he uses it."

The exhibition focuses on Mr. Lalique's most creative period as a jewel maker, from 1889 to 1909. During these years, he made ornaments that were worn on stage by Sarah Bernhardt; he exhibited with stunning success at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris; and made the international art nouveau movement a popular part of wearable design.

Scyyy"The Jewels of Lalique" is on show at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, through April 12.

HOURS: Tuesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

ADMISSION: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students.

GENERAL INFORMATION: (212) 849-8300.

PUBLICATION: The Jewels of Lalique (Flammarion, $50), edited by Yvonne Brunhammer, curator of the exhibition and former director of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

ITINERARY: from New York to:

-- Smithsonian International Gallery, Washington, D.C., May 15-Aug. 15.

-- Dallas Museum of Art, Sept. 13, 1998-Jan. 10, 1999.

SPONSOR: Lalique North America.