“Don’t worry if jewelry is not your thing. The Museum of Fine Arts’ small but dazzling ‘Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry’ is a show you should see regardless. Anyone who responds to technical virtuosity of the highest order, anyone turned on by seeing an aesthetic sensibility taken right to the limit, and anyone even remotely susceptible to color is bound to fall under its spell.”
—Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe
This exhibition includes about 120 works by the leading designers and fabricators of late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century Art Nouveau jewelry. Although many of these artists acquired their skills in traditional, high-style jewelry houses, they found inspiration in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, the philosophy of John Ruskin (1819–1900), the paintings and poetry of the symbolists, and the arts of Japan. For motifs, they looked to the flora (orchids, lilies) and fauna (dragonflies, butterflies) of the natural world and the sensuality of the female form. This new aesthetic was, in large measure, a reaction against nineteenth century historicism, industrialization, and the “tyranny of the diamond,” and these Art Nouveau artists chose to interpret nature rather than imitate it.
René Lalique (1860–1945) was the most renowned Art Nouveau artist, whose one-of-a-kind pieces were often large and made of unusual and inexpensive materials such as horn, enamel, and glass. Art Nouveau designers/jewelers also employed a pastel color palette much like the Impressionists. Color was, for the most part, achieved through the use of enamel, and plique à jour (open to light) enameling added a delicacy and level of technical sophistication not previously seen in jewelry. In addition to works by Lalique, jewelry by Georges Fouquet (1862–1957), Eugène Feuillâtre (1870–1916), and Lucien Gaillard (1861–1933) is shown, as are paintings, sculpture, prints, posters, textiles, and decorative arts from the period.