From the Pen (and Brush) of René Lalique

Master strokes: A rare exhibition of drawings reveals the thought processes behind the legendary designer’s highly prized jewels.

December 5, 2023  |  Anthony DeMarco

New York antique and art dealer A La Vieille Russie is hosting a special exhibition of sketches by renowned French artist and jeweler René Lalique.

The 35 original drawings, which Lalique created between 1894 and 1910, represent the largest collection of its kind outside of France. Jewelry pieces by the designer accompany his drawings in the exhibition, which opened on November 16 and runs through March 29, 2024.

Lalique lived from 1860 to 1945 and was one of the most important figures in the Art Nouveau movement — a style characterized by organic patterns, intricate lines and natural subjects. He is best known for working with glass, using it to create highly decorative jewels and objets d’art such as mirrors and jewelry boxes.

Even before he began concentrating exclusively on glass in 1912, Lalique spent 30 years revolutionizing jewelry design and craftsmanship, says Adam Patrick, managing director of A La Vieille Russie. He invented new forms, conceived new styles, and used new materials for necklaces, pendants, tiaras, rings, and other precious objects like hair combs, handbags and cloak clasps. Many consider him the best and most important Art Nouveau jewelry designer.

All of the artworks on display are from a single collector who started acquiring the pieces in the 1990s, Patrick relates. They are all for sale.

Sketch of Swans by René Lalique. (A La Vieille Russie)

Many of the sketches are ones Lalique used to create his jewels and art objects; they include personal annotations and specific notes for the goldsmiths and other craftsmen. If you place the completed objects on the images, observes Patrick, they will be exactly the same size. Some of the sketches reveal the designer practicing his drawing technique or just doodling.

“Pretty much all of them are on vegetable parchment and [in] Indian ink,” Patrick says. One item in the exhibition is a full-scale painting of a peacock. “It’s very unusual to find a painting by him.”

“Chauve Souris D’Agraphe” drawing by René Lalique.
(A La Vieille Russie)

These sketches and drawings are as rare as Lalique’s finished pieces — perhaps rarer — and while they are less expensive than his jewels, they still represent a sizable investment.

These works provide a window into the nature and inspiration of the artist, reflects Patrick. “With the price involved in purchasing these pieces, you have to have an interest and love for it. I hope people come see this for what it is. They are wonderful things. This is basically the birth of every piece of jewelry he ever made. You can see his thought process in the drawings, sketches and notes for the goldsmiths.”

Sketch for a brooch by René Lalique. (A La Vieille Russie)

Main image: Figures dans Sous-Bois drawing by René Lalique. (A La Vieille Russie)

This article is from the November-December 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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From the Pen (and Brush) of René Lalique

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