To celebrate the opening of Iridescence, on view through March 24, 2019, Object of the Day this week will feature iridescent objects in the collection.

This stunningly crafted fruit knife combines exquisite artistry and strong Japanese influence to elevate the everyday dining experience into an art form. As part of a substantial dessert service of more than 80 pieces, the knife and its fellow serving pieces stand out for their uniquely era-specific design. On this utensil, a woman in a kimono is depicted on the bottom half of the blade, and both geometric shapes and natural vine motifs elegantly flank the female figure. The extraordinarily graceful curves of the blade mimic the gilded organic decoration, and a gently ridged mother-of-pearl handle completes the piece.

The maker of this knife, François Nicoud, was a respected French cutler, specializing in silverware. Based at 19 boulevard de Strasbourg in Paris, like Charles Lavallée and Maison Bourdon before him, Nicoud’s exceptional cutlery work even won him a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in 1878. [1] He undoubtedly noticed the increase in French interest towards the Japanese aesthetic when designing this dessert service. Following the re-opening of Japan’s trading ports to the West in 1853, a sudden flow of Japanese wares entered the European market. The Universal Exposition of 1867 in Paris continued to fuel the trend toward Japonism by showcasing Japanese art pieces for the first time in France. [2]

This ongoing intrigue with the exotic likely inspired the design for Nicoud’s dessert service, as seen in the traditional Japanese dress the figure wears and the “floating world” aspects of decoration, reminiscent of the ukiyo-e artwork that quickly consumed Western trade. This knife conveys Nicoud’s sensitivity towards design and craftsmanship, and how he utilized his superior skill and attention to detail to create a piece that exemplifies the end of the nineteenth century in France – a time period which saw the rise of Art Nouveau and its interest in naturalistic form, Japanese art, and aesthetic indulgence.


Jenny Shin is a Curatorial intern in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and is a 2017-2018 Hunter Mellon Arts Fellow.


[1] Allan, David, French Silver Cutlery of the XIXth Century (Dijon: Éditions Faton, 2007), p. 310.

[2] Ives, Colta. “Japonisme.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)


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