Rapaport Magazine

A Master Craftsman

Georges Fouquet moved effortlessly from Renaissance Revival to Art Nouveau to Art Deco styles, reinforcing the family jewelry business and building an enduring reputation.

By Phyllis Schiller

French Art Nouveau 18-karat gold and silver pendant necklace by Georges Fouquet, circa 1900, with diamonds, plique-à-jour enamel and opal. The pendant is accented with two old European-cut diamonds and is finished with an opal drop. Photograph by Antonio Virardi–Macklowe Gallery.
Georges Fouquet (1862-1957) was born two years after his father Alphonse Fouquet, a Paris jeweler, established the family business, the House of Fouquet, in 1860. Alphonse found success first with archaeological revival jewelry and later the popular Renaissance Revival style, creating beautifully crafted pieces prized as much for their imaginative flights of fancy as their fine enameling and gold work. Georges joined his father in the firm in 1891. When he took over the reins of the business on his father’s retirement in 1895, he continued Alphonse’s standards of excellence, but opted to try something new, turning his family’s design concept in a “very radical direction,” comments Benjamin Macklowe of the Macklowe Gallery, New York City. What captured his imagination was the Art Nouveau style, which he embraced wholeheartedly, employing some of the leading designers of the movement.

Georges Fouquet’s place in the French jewelers pantheon of his day was on a level of “the top three, along with Rene Lalique and Henri Vever…very important,” says Elyse Zorn Karlin, co-director of the Association for the Study of Jewelry & Related Arts (ASJRA) and publisher/executive editor of Adornment magazine. “His collaboration with Charles Desrosiers produced a number of beautiful organic designs, such as a coiled sea serpent with plique-à-jour enamel, horn hair combs with motifs of women, and gorgeous depictions of nature, including flowers, mistletoe, peacocks.” He also worked with the fine enameler Etienne Tourette, Karlin continues. “It’s hard to pinpoint one look because it depended on who Fouquet was collaborating with, but all of the pieces were beautifully crafted, a testament to the fact that Fouquet came from a jewelry family. He made good choices in his collaborations and his shop was well known in Paris.”

In fact, the shop was the culmination of an important collaboration with Czech decorative artist Alphonse Mucha, a partnership that was, says Karlin, good for both of them, although it only lasted from 1899 to 1901. “Fouquet already had a very good reputation when he hired Mucha to design jewels,” explains Karlin. “Mucha had received almost overnight fame by designing posters for Sarah Bernhardt, who had plucked him out of obscurity, but working with Fouquet to design jewelry for the actress only added to his fame. Their collaborations, like the ring-bracelet with serpents they made for her, brought them both additional attention that has lasted until today…that particular piece of jewelry is iconic in the realm of Art Nouveau jewelry. It was shown at the Jewish Museum in New York City in the Sarah Bernhardt exhibition.”

The jewelry shop that Mucha designed for Fouquet in 1901 was a work of art in its own right. It represented the aesthetic idea of “gesamtkunstwerk,” or complete work of art, that interested many Art Nouveau artists, points out Macklowe. Every element, from “the lighting to the mosaic on the floor and the incredible peacock roundels on the walls,” helped create an atmosphere that emphasized the pieces on display, “drawing people into a place of complete magic, where they couldn’t help but be seduced by the jewelry,” says Macklowe.

However, continues Macklowe, before WWI was over, “Fouquet realized that tastes were changing. And while he knew his store was very special, rather than hold on to a style that was out of fashion, he donated the whole thing en masse to the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. I think that points to him being a person who was in love with Art Nouveau but also very aware of his role as a business person and his understanding that things were changing quite rapidly.” Fouquet himself, says Macklowe, did some work in the new Art Deco design, but it is Fouquet’s Art Nouveau jewelry that is his lasting artistic legacy.

Art Nouveau jewelry was quite avant-garde, explains Macklowe. “It was about color and form and context. The overriding concept was to imbue each piece of jewelry with emotion. Fouquet had a painterly quality to his work but he also constructed each piece of jewelry like a sculpture, which was very different from what jewelry designers had done before and what they did after.”

Like Lalique, says Macklowe, Fouquet chose materials that would project his vision of the design. “He used enamel and lots of different colored gemstones. He was very influenced by
Byzantine or Middle Eastern design. And the concept of color is done in a lavish way; he wasn’t afraid of it. I don’t think he was Lalique’s equal, but certainly, he was as close as anybody came.”

“In general, the organic and flowing movement in Fouquet’s designs is superb,” says Karlin. “His first Art Nouveau piece, a sensuous orchid in plique-à-jour enamel, is a tour de force. It  was shown in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston exhibition ‘Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry’ in 2008. His enamels tended to feature a very soft palette of colors.”

While he’s most famous for the representation of orchids, says Macklowe, his designs also featured other naturalistic themes, including peacocks, snakes, dragonflies and butterflies. “It wasn’t so much his choice of subject matter as his interpretation of the subject matter that made him unique…and his insistence on exceedingly high-quality construction.”

“When you hold a piece of Fouquet’s jewelry in your hands,” says Kimberley Thompson, vintage andestate buyer, JB Hudson Jewelers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, “the enameling is absolutely stunning. You look at it and you know it’s a superb piece of French jewelry.”

Fouquet is known for jewelry that was primarily fashioned in gold, enamel and stones…with opal a favorite, explains Karlin. “His work included plique-à-jour enamel and translucent enamels with foil beneath them — paillons — that were sometimes placed over engraved gold. Some of his pieces use lines of diamonds to delineate a shape. For me, the most striking aspect of many Fouquet pieces is his use of beautiful baroque and river pearls. While he was not the only jeweler in the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements to use them, his ability to incorporate them into sensual designs is quite striking.”

“Fouquet pieces are rare,” sums up Karlin. “Partially because some are in museums, and also because by about 1908, Fouquet had moved back into making more mainstream jewelry. When you add the fact that these enamel jewels were incredibly delicate and many have not survived, you see why they are so rare. Once in awhile, a piece comes up at auction. They sell for many thousands of dollars, depending on the design and condition of a particular piece.”

“You never see Fouquet jewelry,” concludes Macklowe. “You’d be lucky if two pieces a year come up.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - April 2012. To subscribe click here.

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