René Lalique, (left) Design for a pendant

René Lalique, (left) Design for a pendant

René Lalique (1860-1945)
Design for a pendant (left)
Pen, ink and gouache
Museum no. E.835-1949

Design for a comb (right)
Pen, ink and gouache
Museum no. E.838-1949

The Artist
René Lalique revolutionised the way jewellery was made. He trained as a goldsmith, but gave up traditional methods early in his career. By 1892 he had his own workshop in Paris, where he began to experiment with new and little-used materials and techniques.

Before Lalique, jewellery had been mainly abstract. He made insect, plant and even human forms a feature of his work. The skill of his designs meant that his work did not need expensive precious stones in order to be valuable. This left him free to use less costly stones such as bloodstones and tourmalines, and to explore unusual materials such as horn, ivory and opal.

The Image
The two designs here appear never to have been made. The pendant has a centrepiece of enamel with an image of two women. It may have been designed with the plique à jour technique in mind. Plique à jour uses enamel without a metal backing, allowing light to pass through as with stained glass. Lalique single-handedly revived this technique after hundreds of years of neglect.

Around the outside of the pendant, intricate metalwork suggests sprigs of parsley. This was not an uncommon motif in Art Nouveau work, which briefly earned the nickname style branche-de-persil (sprig-of-parsley style). Set into this are green cabochon stones, stones which are polished and rounded rather than faceted.

The comb was possibly designed to be made from ivory or horn. The latter is an unusual material for jewellery but one that Lalique made frequent use of, especially in his many ornamental combs.

These designs, and two others by the same artist, can be found in Prints and Drawings Study Room box TOPIC 21a.