An Art Nouveau masterpiece

This highly stylized and avant garde design, at first perceived as exotic butterfly is actually formed of pairs of mating dragonflies and illustrates the fin-de-siècle obsessions with ideas of death, transfiguration and regeneration.

Created by René Lalique around 1900, this is an extraordinarily modern jewel to the twentieth century eye, that, in its day, would have challenged the basic tenets of mainstream society jewellery not only through its form but also in its subject matter and choice of materials.

The muted autumnal palette of golden brown, sage green and tan is in line with the chromatic preferences of Art Nouveau. The choice of the delicious honey-coloured topaz for the central stone is in perfect harmony with the colour of the plique-à-jour enamel of the wings and the pâte-de-verre heads of the insects.

Diamonds are kept to a minimum and their function is simply to draw attention to elements of the design.

Created at the time when the interest of the art world in Japanese works was at its height, this jewel is clearly indebted to the Japanese interpretation of the natural world (see the illustration below).

The red dragonfly and locust depicted here appear in the Edo period work the Picture Book of Crawling Creatures, (woodblock-printed book, ink and colour on paper, 1788), published by Tsutaya Jūzaburō, with illustrations by Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1754-1806). The poet and scholar Yadoya no Meshimori wrote the introduction to the book which featured fifteen designs of insects and other garden creatures, he also selected the poems to accompany each illustration.

One of the consequences of the re-opening of Japan to the western trade in the late 1850s was a steady flow to Europe of Japanese works of art. In Paris, the activities of Samuel Bing were crucial to the Japanese influence on Art Nouveau. From the early 1870s, he specialised in the importation and sale of Japanese and other Asian objets d’art. Between 1888 and 1891 he published a monthly journal, Le Japon Artistique, and eventually in 1895 he opened his famous gallery, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau, which showcased the works of artists, including Lalique. Their output would become known as the Art Nouveau, (see the photograph below). 

Édouard Pourchet (1848-1907), Entrance of the Maison de l'Art Nouveau, 22 rue de Provence, Paris, 1895

Lalique is without doubt the undisputed genius of Art Nouveau. He produced a large body of work that included many masterpieces; we believe this jewel should certainly be counted among them.