In 1892, the Republic of France announced that it would mount a grand exposition to
commemorate the year 1900. The world was in a state of transition. There was an energy and
anticipation of the achievements possible in the coming century. France invited artists from
around the world to represent their countries and to showcase their work. The exposition was an
opportunity to bring the world together and to revel in the possibilities of the modern age. René
Lalique presented a triumphant booth flled with his signature jewelry in the Art Nouveau style. Equally
extolled by critics was the spectacular balustrade Lalique designed for the installation. Six bronze
female fgures, nude, with wings outstretched, in slightly diferent poses, attitude and mood,
were draped with gauze fabric on which Lalique’s sparkling jewels were moored.
Enhanced by realistic bats swooping overhead, the booth was a highlight of the exhibition, producing an enchanted,
The winged figures, representing both the ‘new’ female and the metamorphosis of that particular
moment in time, exhibit the infuence of Symbolism on Lalique’s aesthetics. Although it began as a
literary concept in the late 19th century, Symbolism came to be identifed with the work of a younger
generation of French artists who were similarly rejecting the conventions of Naturalism.
Symbolist artists believed that their work should reflect an emotion or idea, rather than represent the natural world in the objective, scientifc manner embodied by the Realists and Impressionists. They felt that the symbolic value and meaning of a work stemmed from the recreation of emotional experiences in the viewer through color, line and composition.
The woman became a preferred symbol for the expression of the universal emotions – love, fear, anguish, death, sexual
awakening and unrequited desire. Lalique embraced the female form as the most perfect expression of these emotions,
capable of both transformation and dramatic contradiction. He was further infuenced by the changing attitudes of
women, many of whom were rejecting the status quo of male superiority. The semi-clad woman was a theme Lalique
frequently explored in all aspects of his art, including glass, jewelry and sculpture. The anthropomorphic form of the
winged female was highly suggestive, symbolic of the newly empowered woman. Lalique’s iconography superbly
captured this sense of metamorphosis and revolutionary societal changes rampaging through fn de siècle Europe. The
hybrid creatures immortalized in his Femmes Ailées, with their wings unfurled, symbolize feminine liberation, fgurative
butterfies emerging from their chrysalises.
As much as these sculptures showcase Lalique’s artistic aesthetics and ideals, they also display his impeccable skill and
craftsmanship. He had an inventive fair rarely seen by any sculptor working before him. The fuid lines and sensual forms
of the Femmes Ailées fgures point directly to the infuence of Lalique’s father-in-law, Auguste Ledru, and his brotherin-
law, both sculptors and colleagues of Rodin. The captivating facial expressions are provocative and seductive. The
intricate wings, textured with feathers, seem to at once belong to both a bird and an insect. As unique works of art they
present clear evidence of Lalique’s genius as an artist and a craftsman. Of the six Femmes Ailées known to exist, three
are in museums: the Kunstgwerbemuseum, Berlin (acquisition no. 1901-111), Musée Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder, France
(private collection, on loan) and Lalique Museum Hakone, Kanagawa, Japan (private collection, on loan). The two present
lots are an exceedingly rare opportunity to acquire these historically transformative objects that supremely represent the
heights of Lalique’s incredible talent and artistry.