Monday, 18 February 2013

The Master Jeweler Henri Vever

A Renaissance pendant of gold, enamel, rose-cut diamonds and a hanging pearl (1895). Two names may be sufficient by themselves to represent the art of jewelry design, as seen on display at the Exposition Universelle: Lalique and Vever." Leonce Benedite's pronouncement on the exhibition held in 1900 expressed a view largely shared by his contemporaries and in particular by the panel judging the jewelry design category, who awarded a Grand Prix to each of these two jewelers.

Although Rene Lalique's creations are internationally recognized and admired, it is a different story for Henri Vever, whose name and jewels are known only to a handful of enthusiasts, and mainly through his masterly history of 19th-century jewelry, a peerless work of reference even today.

Vever was born into the third generation of a family of jewelers and goldsmiths. His grandfather Pierre Paul Vever (1794-1853), the son of a hotel-keeper, set up his business in Metz in 1821. After serving a long apprenticeship and living in Hanau and Vienna, his son Jean Jacques Ernest (1823-84) took over the business in 1848.

A gilt bronze box with cameos in the Antique style and enamel (1889)When the World Fair was held in Metz in 1861, Ernest Vever, by then established at 6 Rue Fabert, exhibited several designs from his workshops: "Gothic holy-water stoup in silver, Byzantine chalice in vermeil, Renaissance chalice in vermeil, bracelets, brooches, jewelry sets and necklaces in gold set with brilliants."

This succinctly worded list shows us that Ernest took his inspiration from the past and, like many of his contemporaries, made his name with what we now term historicism. Today a bracelet and a few silver charms are the only known surviving examples of the House of Vever's work during that period.

The Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Frankfurt which ended hostilities on 10 May 1871 soon forced the Vever family to flee their native Metz, which now became part of the German Empire. Ernest chose to establish himself in Paris where he bought up the business of Baugrand, who had died during the siege, and thus combined his old provincial factory with the workshops of a famous Parisian jeweler who had been one of Napoleon Ill's foremost suppliers. 

 "Awakening" pendant, designed by Vever in 1900, of ivory, gold, diamonds and enamel with a suspended baroque pearl. Cordially welcomed by his fellow jewelers in Paris, Ernest was appointed in 1874 judge of the Tribunal de Commerce in the Seine region, and then in 1875 he was made President of the Jewelers and Goldsmiths Trade Association, an important position he was to occupy until 1881, the year in which he retired from business.Ernest was accompanied to Paris by his two sons, Paul and Henri, who were aged 20 and 17 respectively

Paul was admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique, while Henri received a technical and artistic education. He was apprenticed in the jewelry workshops of the Loguet brothers at 94 Rue du Temple; then, when he attained the status of craftsman, he began work with Hallet at 95 Rue des Petits-Champs, where he learned the crafts of jewelry-making and stone-setting. At the same time he embarked upon the study of professional design under Dufoug and later attended evening classes at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. In February 1873 he passed the entrance examination for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied painting for two years under Millet and Gerome.

In 1874 Paul and Henri became their father's partners. In accordance with their respective educations, Paul assisted his father with the administrative and commercial aspects of the business, while Henri helped to manage the artistic side.

"Woman with Tambourines", a gold pendant of enamel, opals, emerald, brilliant-cut diamonds and a drop pearl 1900). In their separate capacities both took part in the preparations for the next Exposition Universelle, which was to be held in Paris in 1878. Although Ernest, being a member of the panel of judges, could not enter the competition, he did present a display which caught the attention of professional craftsmen and public alike. He exhibited jeweled bouquets, a parure in the classical style studded with emeralds, and a necklace in the Greek style, set with pearls and brilliants. 

Most noteworthy of all, and showing great originality in an exhibition where the Renaissance style was predominant, was an Assyrian necklace in chased gold. Inspired by Oriental design, it had a triple interwoven chain hung with palms and lotus flowers, in alternation with rectangular tablets resembling cylindrical seals, each decorated with an animal, for example an ox, a lion, a wild boar, or an insect. These gradually decreased in size towards the clasp at the back.

In 1881 Ernest handed over the management of the family firm to his two sons. They were both to impart to the business fresh impetus which, in just a few years, resulted in their being among the finest jewelers in Paris. This rise to fame was confirmed at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 when Vever was awarded one of the two Grands Prix for jewelry design the other prize going to Boucheron.

The "Perfume" pendant of 1900, designed by Rene Rozet in partially enameled gold, opals brilliant-cut diamonds and a suspended pearl Vever's presentation brought together the richest and rarest jewels. There was a parure set with diamonds of every possible hue and a tiara with a 54-carat golden diamond as the centre stone, surrounded by diamond "sun-rays". The display also included a shell featuring an extremely rare rose brilliant and a Louis XVI "knot" with a 165-grain black pearl in the centre. For these exceptional stones, Vever designed classic settings; for less spectacular gems his settings had a floral theme in a naturalistic style: "Branches of rose trees, almond trees and strawberry plants in blossom, as well as orchids and all kinds of flowers, tare] set with such daintiness and so natural a movement that they might have been picked in the fields one beautiful frosty morning."

Vever also used flowers as a source of inspiration for his work as a goldsmith, which won him the compliments of the critic Roger Marx: "M. Vever has had the happy notion of rebelling; he has opened his windows wide onto the countryside, fashioning mimosa blossoms and newly gathered roses in silver repousse-work." Among the items in its collections the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris has a silver sugar bowl and coffee pot decorated with eucalyptus leaves, Virginia creeper, convolvulus flowers and roses, all executed in repousse.

The House of Vever became equally famous in the field of new techniques, including the different methods of applying enamel; for instance, translucent enamel a jour enhanced an Oriental-style lamp, while enamel painted in the Limoges style was used for a portrait of Vittoria Colonna by Paul Grandhomme and basse-taille enameling was applied to a small, round mirror, which bore a scene in the medieval style.

The "Omphale" necklace designed by Eugene Grasset in 1900; gold, silver, enamel, red jasper, rubies, turquoises, emeralds and brilliant-cut diamonds. The Vever brothers' choice of themes shows considerable eclecticism. They took their inspiration from classical times for mirrors and a casket decorated with antique cameos linked with enameled tracery-work. They were also inspired by the Middle Ages and the East, while the French 18th century exerted an equally strong influence, as is evident from the bracelets decorated with pastoral scenes or the fables of La Fontaine, and a silver powder box adorned with a circle of putti, a work which may be attributed to the engraver Jules Brateau. He was known principally as a pewterer, although he worked for several jewelers, including Falize, Vever and Boucheron, and was himself a jewelry-maker.

In 1891 a French exhibition was organized in Moscow amid the climate of the new diplomatic relationship between France and Russia, which was to culminate in the famous Franco-Russian alliance of 1893. 

The exhibition, held in Petrovski Park, was much admired by the elite of Russian high society, and the House of display was undoubtedly one of attractions. In the centre were six parures, all of exceptional rarity. One was adorned with white pearls, while the others were studded with sapphires, rubies or eralds; finally, one featured black pearls mounted with clusters of brilliants. Along-side some items which had already been exhibited in 1889 were displayed new creations from the House of Vever, including bonbonnieres in rock-crystal set with enamel and diamonds, flagons of hard stones and a series of flowers and butterflies in gold and silver covered with semi-transparent, iridescent enamel.

An elaborate bottle of 1900 in rock-crystal with enameled gold decorationThe new trend which took the theme of nature and the humblest plants as a source of inspiration was already reflected in certain Vever creations from 1889, as is evident from the House's display for the Exposition Universelle of that year. The movement appeared for the first time in 1889 in the work of jewelers like Vever and Falize and gained in popularity until it triumphed in 1900 as "Art Nouveau", in which the principal themes of flora and fauna became linked with the female form.

It was from 1895, however, on the occasion of Rene Lalique's exhibition at the Salon des Artistes Francais, that the most perfect examples of Art Nouveau in the field of jewelry design were seen. Now precious metals, combined with other materials, took pride of place, in contrast to the art of mounting stones, where settings were overshadowed by the gems. 

It cannot be disputed that Lalique influenced Vever in some measure, although Vever certainly forged his own personal style. Whereas Lalique rejected all categories and hierarchies to win artistic freedom, Vever wanted to bring about changes and developments within the confines of tradition.

A 1900 pendant called "La Bretonne", made of gold, enamel, opals, diamonds and amethysts. It was not his practice to combine processes and he mixed materials only in the most discreet ways. As a jeweler, he always attached great importance to the beauty and worth of gems and retained what some describe as "a bias in favour of precious stones". But if he did always use precious stones, he at least endeavored to find new ways of magnifying their splendour. He abandoned the ubiquitous bouquets of wild flowers beloved by Oscar Massin in favour of the materials and flowers which Lalique had brought back into fashion: honesty, mistletoe, thistle, eucalyptus leaves, fuchsia, nasturtiums and cyclamen, which he fashioned in opal, ivory and enamel. 

Henri Vever himself encapsulated this new trend: ". . . On the occasion of the impressive industrial exhibition of 1900, the House of Vever's chief aim was to create only items which had an especial character of novelty, while remaining subject to the unchanging laws of balance and harmony essential to all fine composition."

It is certainly true that the House of Vever's presentation at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 revealed exceptional creative power not only in the number, but also in the quality, of the items on display: "Contrary to what is usually the case, these glass display cabinets do not contain a few important pieces intended for competition emerging from a flood of pieces which form part of everyday production.

A brooch of 1900 called "Apparitions", designed by coasset and made of gold, ivory and enamel. There are innumerable interesting themes, on which the jeweler wished to impress his personality. Each piece gives evidence of research and has its own special fascination." The House of Vever's display was divided into two separate categories: one a personal contribution, the other creations based on the designs of Eugene Grasset.

Vever's greatest efforts were devoted to making jewelry set with gems, among which were a series of tiaras, each outstandingly original and showing perfect harmony of composition. These included a "fern" tiara, which had jagged diamond-studded "leaves" that encircled the temples and then curled upwards from the forehead, where they were decorated with a large yellow diamond. Another consisted of a simple circlet of diamonds above which waved a peacock-plume.

 The eye was made of opal, surrounded by diamond feathers. A third circlet featured a spray of honesty which adorned the front of the wearer's coiffure; some were set with diamonds, others made up of a series of opals. Several combs, which combined diamonds and enamel with horn, tortoiseshell or ivory, also drew on the floral theme for their designs; they form a group of exceptional quality and originality. One comb has five teeth in pale tortoiseshell, its upper part adorned with a coil of green enameled mistletoe leaves, spangled with pearls. 

A "peacock" belt buckle design of 1900 by Coasset of gold enamel and cabochon cornelians. In another model, the artist has created with opal-encrusted ivory two cyclamen leaves surmounted by flowers in translucent enamel faintly veined in gold. Others are decorated with hydrangea, thistles, carnations or parsley. The human form appears as a tenderly embracing couple, sculpted in ivory, while the animal kingdom is also represented by the head of an owl made of horn, its emerald eyes encircled with gold.

The metal jewelry comprised items in chased and enameled gold. There were pendants set with medals by Roty or Bottee, brooches and buckles where flowers and women played their decorative roles in accordance with the tastes of the day, with a great deal of ingenuity as well as restraint in design. For example, one pendant which attracted considerable attention was prettily decorated with the profile of a Breton girl wearing a traditional head-dress. It is fashioned in ivory, opal and enamel against a background of flowering broom. 

Together with these items which show such grace and harmony of composition, the House of Vever also presented about twenty pieces which were the result of a working partnership with the designer Eugene Grasset (1845-1917), who had already been active in the field of decorative arts before Vever asked him to design jewelry.

An elaborate pendant of 1900 called "Silvia": gold, agate, ruby, enamel and brilliant-cut diamonds.Vever had certainly met Grasset through 'Charles Guillot, a printer who shared Vever's enthusiasms as a collector. Their first joint project was the binding for Launette's book Quatre fils Aymon (1883). Vever commissioned Grasset to produce a large design which was to be executed by Tourette in cloisonné enamel on gold and mounted on the front of the binding. This work, which was carried out from 1892 to 1894, was displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, where it was much admired.

Henri Vever was not the only jeweler to call upon an artist outside the profession to design new pieces. That same year, Georges Fouquet entered into collaboration with the painter Alphonse Mucha. Although each designed very different creations, all their pieces may be described as "painters' jewels", for their effects were achieved as if by brush-strokes, with enamels or by colouring gold. The stones served solely as accessories, and the focal point of these jewels was their composition and the harmony of the colours used. Grasset, in fact, favoured more sombre hues. One set was described by Gustave Geffroy as being somewhat archaic and severe in appearance: "The workmanship was all very distinctive, the appearance magnificent yet deliberately austere. 

If a comparison had to be made, it could be likened to examples of Merovingian art, which remains an inimitable model, both for the soft, muted richness of its colours and the uncluttered amplitude of its form." Grasset decorated his jewelry, which was frequently described as "barbaric", with mythical female figures, animals or flowers. Nymphs swimming among the waves appear on a brooch or the upper part of a comb. On one impressive necklace Omphale, standing on a lionskin, holds Hercules' club on her shoulder; she is flanked by two cupids on clouds of opaque enamel studded with cabochon emeralds. 

A belt-buckle of 1897 with an iris design made of gold and translucent enamel a jour. The most successful pieces are a brooch in the form of a woman's head in profile, her hair adorned with a daisy, together with the motto, "Un peu, beaucoup, passionnement, pas du tout", and also a pendant called Poesie, the most feminine among these somewhat unpolished designs, which depicts in ivory the head and shoulders of a young woman with long blonde hair, playing the lyre. In the case of other creations, Grasset adapted the decoration to fit the purpose of the jewelry: on a belt buckle, for example, the head of a peacock joins up with the tip of its tail, thus forming a circle into which the bird's body is blended.

When the awards were presented, the House of Vever was given a Grand Prix for its display, but in particular for its setting of stones. Vever achieved first place because of the House's success in combining tradition with the new naturalistic trends. As Roger Marx explained, "M. Henri Vever appears to be the goldsmith destined to establish the transition between the old and new schools, between stone setting and decorative jewelry, between M. Massin and M. Rene Lalique."

The "Syracuse" belt-buckle (1900), made of gold, enamel and cabochon emerald.
The success of Art Nouveau was, how-ever, to be short-lived. From 1902, signs of exhaustion became apparent, and the young artists Maurice Dufrene and Paul Follot tended towards less cluttered designs; shapes became more geometric, moving towards a stylized look. It was during this period that Rene Lalique gradually abandoned jewelry for glass design, and although certain jewelers, such as Feuillatre and Gaillard, continued to work in the Art Nouveau tradition, others like Fouquet and Vever adapted their work to changing tastes.

This step proved particularly easy, as the move towards geometric shapes and more neutral tonality made the role of jewelry increasingly significant.

A belt-buckle design of hornets (1907): carved gold and enamel.In 1907 the Vever brothers transferred their business from 19 Rue de la Paix to No. 14, a building they had commissioned on the site of the old Beral pharmacy. To coincide with the opening of their new establishment they presented a new collection of jewelry which strongly reflected the changes initiated over the past few years. The use of platinum instead of silver for jewelry mounts made it possible to fashion extremely fine threads, which were then pierced so that stones could be inserted. Although these creations were still inspired by floral themes, they were simpler and more geometric in design, as well as more synthesized in form.

On the death of his brother Paul, on 13 May 1915, Henri was left sole director of the family concern, but business suffered in the unfavorable conditions of wartime. In 1921 Henri, then aged 67 handed his share of the business to his nephews Andre and Pierre, Paul's sons. But it appears that they were unable to maintain the reputation of their House at the level it had reached under the direction of Paul and Henri Vever. 

The critic Emile Sedeyn wrote in 1923 that "their contribution to the business is still effective, but seems to be cautious and reserved". At the 1925 Exposition, several Vever pieces were noticed: bracelets with a cloud motif after the drawings of Jules Chadel, and a series of jewels made of precious stones and inspired by Persian miniatures.

Two combs of 1900 composed of gold, enamel, tortoiseshell and pearls. Right, an owl, made of horn, gold, translucent enamel a jour, cabochon emeralds aria rose-cut diamonds. Andre and Pierre Vever continued to run the firm until 1960, having enlarged it in 1924-25 by acquiring the House of Linzeler, to whom they were related. After 1927 the workshops no longer existed at 14 Rue de la Paix, and the execution of jewelry was entrusted to two or three studios that worked for Vever. In 1960 the House was taken over by Jean Vever, a grandson of Paul, who had worked with his uncles since 1934; then in 1982 all activities ceased.

Whenever Art Nouveau jewelry is mentioned, the name of Lalique immediately springs to mind. His current popularity frequently overshadows certain other jewelers of the same period, even though they would have been acknowledged by their contemporaries as his equals. Today, it is high time they were recognized as such. In the development of the new artistic movement that they all sought to foster, Lalique was undisputed master of decorative jewelry, but it was Vever who, by his harmonious and original creations, turned the setting of gems into a form of art.

Writer – Thames & Hudson
Visit Also:

No comments:

Post a Comment