In 1900, at the l’Exposition Universelle, Siegfried Bing coordinated the display of works by many of the most well known artists and designers of the Art Nouveau movement including, Hector Guimard and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Though already popular, one designer in particular, René Lalique, would benefit from the Exposition. On display in Lalique’s infamous installation was the realized object from this design for a corsage ornament, or chest brooch, beneath a decorative canopy of stars and bats. From then on, Lalique became known as the designer of the finest Art Nouveau jewelry, and his skill and design genius continued to bring him fame for his iconic Art Deco glass works of the 1920s and 30s.
This particular design, which predates the Exposition, is in the Art Nouveau style. Its sinuous female nudes, striking colors, and attention to detail were all prevalent elements of Lalique’s designs. Like Bing and his contemporaries, Lalique was influenced by the use of nature in Japanese design. He frequently incorporated natural motifs in his work such as dragonflies, fish, bats, flowers, and beetles. The melting, molten, lines of the nudes on each end of this design reflect the lithe nature of similar corsages designed by Lalique. Often, the centers of each are tapered while the ends blossom out into plaques, as seen here, wings, foliage, or scarabs. In the design, the nudes are personifications of night, each helping to create the Milky Way as they throw sapphires into an arrangement of diamond stars. Lalique’s designs often displayed luxurious materials: diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, and sapphires. But, similar to his contemporary Fabergé, Lalique also popularized humble gemstones and materials such as enamel, jasper, ivory, coral, and glass. These pieces were sought after by some of the most affluent and famous members of the early twentieth century, including actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Beginning in the 1910s, Lalique focused his energy on Art Deco glass work. Now, instead of implementing a fluid line and a variety of materials, he introduced geometric patterning into his designs by practicing a new type of glass sculpture called cire perdue, or lost wax. He designed numerous perfume bottles, vases, clocks, sculptures, and bowls. It is hard to say if Lalique is best known for his jewelry or the glass work of his later career, but it is safe to say that he was a remarkably prolific and multi-faceted designer.