Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Cartier's islamic connection

A new exhibition explores the maison’s love affair with motifs from Iran, India and beyond.

Image: Marian Gérard/Collection Cartier/Cartier  

The presence of Persian and Indian styles in Cartier designs has been known for a long time, says Dr. Heather Ecker, but “these influences have never been analyzed rigorously through the lens of Cartier’s rich archives.”

Until now, that is. A new exhibition, “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity,” brings the subject into focus by drawing on those archives, which include “sketchbooks, drawings, photographs and documentary plaster casts from the late 19th century to the present,” according to Ecker, the Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz curator of Islamic and medieval art at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) in Texas.

The exhibition is a joint effort by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris — where it is on view through February 20 — and the DMA, where it will make its US debut this spring. Ecker is overseeing the latter event alongside Sarah Schleuning, the DMA’s Margot B. Perot senior curator of decorative arts and design.

Among the 400-plus objects on display are more than 150 pieces of jewelry, says Schleuning.

Reconstructing a collection

The project, which has the support of maison Cartier, has been a long time in the making.

“Pierre Rainero — head of image, heritage and style at Cartier — has long had the idea that part of Cartier’s enduring design vocabulary has its origins in forms derived from Islamic art and architecture,” explains Ecker. A 1997 exhibition at the British Museum explored this angle somewhat, with “small sections devoted to both the Persian and Indian styles at Cartier,” she relates. “In a sense, the present exhibition is an expansion of that germ of an idea.”

Louis Cartier’s private collection of Islamic art was an important source of inspiration for his designers, Ecker continues, “particularly Indian and Iranian manuscripts and paintings, as well as inlaid objects in ivory, stone and brass.” Under the direction of four international curators — two from the decorative-arts and design world, and two from the field of Islamic art — “the exhibition has sought to reconstruct his now dispersed collection as comprehensively as possible.”

The Musée du Louvre is also collaborating on the project, having recently acquired two ivory inlaid pen boxes from that collection, Ecker adds. Both are part of the exhibition.

Gathering inspiration

The Islamic style at the jewelry house began under Louis Cartier’s creative direction in the 20th century, “soon after some early explorations of abstraction — a radical departure from the prevailing ‘garland’ style that had brought fame to the maison since the late 19th century,” Ecker explains. “Abstraction in art was a major movement with roots in this same period.”

As part of his efforts, Cartier “created a design library of books of Islamic ornaments, from Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament to works of late-19th-century French ornamental theoreticians and architects who had visited the Islamic lands, particularly Egypt and Syria. That library, still intact at Cartier and with some illustrations and photographs annotated in Louis’s own hand, served as a major source for his designers,” she says.

He and his team also drew on existing works of art on display in Paris, remarks Ecker. Those included Iznik plates — the intricately decorated pottery named for its town of origin in what is now Turkey — from the private collection that eventually became the Musée de Cluny. Other sources of inspiration she cites include a 1903 exhibition of Islamic art at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs — the catalogue of which remains in Cartier’s library today — as well as the collections of the Louvre and works from the 1910 “Masterpieces of Islamic Art” exhibition in Munich, Germany.

Cartier and his designers used these sources to build up “a lexicon or repertoire of Islamic forms...that was transformed and recombined to make new creations in jewelry and precious accoutrements,” she says. “In parallel, Cartier has long had a practice of reusing antique elements in new creations, and this, too, looked to the Islamic world for beads, carved stones, decorative plaques and amulets, etc.”

Star attractions

The new show includes many incredible works by Cartier, including an iconic turquoise tiara, says Schleuning, “but the journey that the exhibition traces from the Islamic objects admired to the Cartier works imagined and then realized [is what] makes this an innovative and dynamic exhibition.”

In addition to archives from the jeweler’s Paris, New York and London branches, the research materials for the exhibit included “an immense collection of studies and sketches donated by the family of Charles Jacqueau to the Petit Palais museum,” according to Ecker. Jacqueau was one of the senior designers under Louis Cartier’s direction, and “his drawings are the only ones that can be securely ascribed to a particular designer, as most of the other studies are unsigned.”

Schleuning highlights four objects by Cartier Paris that will feature in a multimedia platform: a bandeau from 1922, inspired by “a series of mosque courtyard arcades and windows” that Jacqueau copied from Henri Saladin’s book Manuel D’Art Musulman: L’Architecture; a special-order bib necklace from 1947, which “appears to be taken from the expanding, tessellated design of a tiled or painted mosque ceiling or other interior dome”; a special-order bazuband upper-arm bracelet that Cartier Paris created for Cartier London in 1922, which takes its form “from the central medallion with two finials that is commonly found on Islamic book bindings and in other media, such as carpets”; and the Star bracelet from 1923, which Jacqueau based on “a pattern captured by [Islamic art scholar] Jules Bourgoin...of the mosaic work on the inside of the mihrab [prayer niche] at the Maridani mosque in Cairo.”

“Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity” will be on display at the DMA from May 14 to September 18.


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2022. To subscribe click here.

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