Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique

San Francisco, December 3, 2008—At the end of the 19th century, three ateliers in New York, Paris and St. Petersburg were preparing the final touches on spectacular examples of decorative objects and jewelry for an event with global implications—the 1900 International Exposition in Paris, which would be attended by over 50 million visitors. There the work of three artists, Peter Carl Fabergé, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique, would be exhibited at the same venue for the first and only time. Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique returns to that historic moment and explores the master techniques and artistry of the three prominent designers—and the rivalry between them. The exhibition is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and will be on view from February 7 through May 31, 2009, at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique brings together nearly 250 objects from more than 40 international lenders including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco, as well as institutions and private lenders in London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg and across the United States.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Seven Easter eggs by Fabergé, including Imperial examples such as the Imperial Blue Serpent Egg Clock owned by Princess Grace of Monaco, one rare Imperial Easter egg by Cartier, and the Imperial Basket of Flowers by Fabergé, as well as bibelots and jewelry designed for the Russian Tsars and their family and later sold by the Bolsheviks.
  • The United States debut of the Magnolia Window by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios. This stained glass window was purchased in Paris in 1901 for the collection of Baron Stieglitz, a close courtier of Tsar Nicholas II in St. Petersburg, and has only recently been exhibited in Russia.
  • Major examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Favrile glass including vases and a large selection of his incomparable glass lamps.
  • Spectacular jewelry featuring diamonds and rare gemstones by Tiffany & Co.
  • René Lalique’s extraordinary Art Nouveau designs for artistic jewelry incorporating stylized insects and birds, plant forms, mythical creatures and idealized female figures. Lalique’s glass will also be featured, including his Frogs and Lily Pads Vase.
  • Stylized bronze sculptures of women metamorphosing into butterflies that decorated Lalique’s booth at the 1900 Exposition.

Artistic Luxury takes a critical look at the development, design and marketing of each artist and explores how Fabergé, Tiffany and Lalique responded to the demand for luxury decorative objects at the turn of the 20th century. Although all three designers competed for the same commissions and customers—royalty, political leaders, actors, and captains of industry—each was known for his own characteristic style, which will be displayed through separate galleries devoted to each designer. In the end, the three artists were united by a common purpose: to elevate the mundane object (umbrella handles, lamps, inkwells, etc.) into the most luxurious and artistic creations imaginable for their illustrious clientele. Their work became the ultimate status symbol of the Gilded Age. The three designers drew inspiration from both historicism, reviving popular motifs from the past, and new currents in design such as Art Nouveau and Modernism. Fabergé, who catered primarily to the tastes of the Russian and British royal families, was the most conservative in design of the three. Tiffany had the broadest range of customers and gained a reputation for providing the most extraordinary objects of personal adornment. Lalique pushed the boundaries of his artistry towards the avant-garde and attracted the patronage of influential members of the artistic and literary circles. All three are credited with the elevation of indigenous multi-colored gemstones, in contrast to the profusion of white diamonds and pearls favored by the world’s aristocracy. Likewise, the use of humble materials such as horn, ivory, glass, and hard stones enabled the designers to spotlight their natural colorations and concentrate on the sculptural possibilities inherent in the material.

The 1900 Paris International Exposition
From April through November of 1900, over 50 million visitors attended this international world’s fair where nearly 60 countries presented 85,000 exhibitions of the best of their art and culture, scientific innovations, and manufacturing accomplishments. Visitors were wowed by innovations such as the escalator, the moving sidewalk, the wireless telegraph, the first projected sound films, and the world’s most powerful telescope. The Exposition’s legacy included many grand Parisian buildings that were constructed as venues for the Exposition such as the Grand Palais, the Gare de Lyon, the Gare D’Orsay (now the Musee D’Orsay), the Pont Alexander III, and the Petit Palais. The second Olympic Games were held in Paris during five months of the Exposition and included the first female athletes.

Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Credit Information
The San Francisco presentation is made possible by the Clare C. McEvoy Charitable Remainder Unitrust and Jay D. McEvoy Trust, Hurlbut-Johnson Charitable Trusts, and through bequests from Alfred H. Peet, the Evelyn A. Westberg Trust, and the Michael J. Weller Trust.

A catalog, Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique by Stephen Harrison, Emmanuel Ducamp and Jeannine Falino with contributions by Christie Mayer Lefkowith, Pilar Velez, Catherine Walworth, and Wilfried Zeisler (Cleveland Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2008) accompanies the exhibition.

Visiting \ Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor displays a collection of over 4,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a Beaux-Arts style building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121

Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm; closed on Monday.

$20 adults; $17 seniors; $16 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D.; Members and children 12 and under are free. $10 admission for permanent collection only.

General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month. ($10 surcharge for Artistic Luxury still applies.)