An early September drive into New Hampshire took me out of my routine, away from my desk, and encouraged me to slow down and catch the transition from summer to autumn, something I’ve missed in recent years. The warm and intense autumn colors of New England foliage were a special treat, and come to mind as I study, and review the cataloguing for, these earrings and brooch by the French jewelry and glass designer Marie-Claude Lalique.
The granddaughter of noted Art Nouveau jewelry and glass designer, René Lalique, and the daughter of engineer and glass designer Marc Lalique, Marie-Claude joined the family business in the early 1960s. Originally interested in pursuing a career in theater design after graduating from the École National Supérieure des Arts Decoratifs in 1957, she was encouraged by her father to try designing glass and to collaborate with him at the family firm. She did, and went on to lead the business after his death in 1977. For a period in the 1960s-early 1970s, she designed jewelry as well.
Like her grandfather and father, Marie-Claude found inspiration in nature and felt that the shape, design, and richness of material lent to the quality of an object’s beauty. In contrast to her grandfather’s jewelry designs that accentuated the extravagant asymmetrical curves and organic forms of Art Nouveau, Marie-Claude’s jewelry of the mid to late 1960s shows a modern take on flora and fauna, simplified, yet rooted in forms as they appear in nature. Marie-Claude worked not only in precious metals and glass, but employed precious and semiprecious stones and other materials in her designs as well. For this brooch and earrings, she used the plique à jour enamel technique, in which transparent or translucent enamel is applied in cells with no backing so light can shine through the enamel. The tiny gaps between the gold veining in the leaf forms are filled with shades of translucent green and dark red enamel. When light passes through the enamel, the sense of changing colors is heightened. The seemingly random spots of warm hues do evoke a sense of being on the cusp of an autumn transition.
Could these pieces inspire some foliage viewing as autumn gets underway in New York?
Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.