René Lalique (1860-1945) radically transformed traditional French jewelry design and manufacturing , asserting him as a master jeweler and a principal leader of the Art Nouveau movement. Lalique began his career working as a freelance designer for Cartier and Boucheron until 1888, when he founded his own workshop in Paris.
In the eyes of Lalique, jewelry of the 19th century was uninspiring and stagnant, partially due to its industrial influence along with the perception that jewelry was purely a symbol of wealth and status. Lalique saw a lack of artistic value in the jewelry of his time and sought to redefine a new style in a new century, where jewelry was no longer seen solely as a form of ornamentation but also as outstanding works of art. The turn of the century embraced transition and evolution, which defined Lalique’s Art Nouveau jewelry with “the bewitching theme of turbulent change, constant movement and transformation. ”
While Lalique did use precious stones and gold, it was his bold use of semi-precious materials that set him apart from his contemporaries. Lalique challenged the idea that the intrinsic value of the materials was entirely responsible for defining the worth of a piece. Lot 25 exhibits Lalique’s revolutionary design and sophisticated use of materials to portray his imagination and inspiration from the natural world and the female form.
The female figure effortlessly embraces the organic shapes and curved lines of Lalique’s work that became characteristic of the Art Nouveau style. Lot 25 presents a popular subject of focus for Lalique: the encounter between woman and flower. Four blue enamel poppies adorn the woman’s cast glass face, forming a crown upon the crest of her head. Growing from the flowers, vines extend to gracefully caress the dreamy face, as her eyes rest closed. Vines and branches are frequently found in Lalique’s work, typical of the Art Nouveau style, to symbolize the duality of nature, as both a peaceful and unruly force.
The delicate and ethereal nature of the glass face is perceived through a contrasting frame of enamel. The presence of energy and movement is a defining feature of Art Nouveau and evident in Lot 25. The limp poppies, used to symbolize sleep, are far from lifeless as they lie open and fold organically. Beneath, the vines intertwine and swirl as windblown hair. The riotous energy of the natural components starkly contrasts the central focus of the ring: the peacefully sleeping woman. The transparency of the lightly frosted glass allows for light to permeate the ring, illuminating the tranquil energy of life within the face.
In Lalique’s oeuvre of work, the female form appears in astonishingly diverse variations, from hybrid insect-women to the female snake charmer. Lalique’s work often references literature and myths that interlace woman and nature, creating whimsical and sometimes haunting narratives. Lot 25 is incredibly reminiscent of Lalique’s ’Poppy Maiden’ pendant circa 1898 to 1900. While Poppy Maiden incorporates oxidized silver and a dangling pearl, the face of the woman as well as the composition of the poppies and vines are evocative of Lot 25. The Poppy Maiden is regarded as one of Lalique’s most mysterious and beautiful creations as it fluctuates between life and death. The incorporation of blue to the enamel poppies in Lot 25 renders the image less ghost-like and rather more alive and ethereal than Poppy Maiden.
By 1912, Lalique had shifted his focus from jewelry to glasswork entirely, producing glasses, vases and carafes. At this point in his career, Lalique had established himself as a sensational jeweler globally. Lot 25 is a masterpiece of Lalique’s and captures the essence and spirit of his exquisitely individual Art Nouveau style.