When the House of Fouquet received a prize at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, it had already existed for forty years with a reputation well established by its founder Alphonse Fouquet. It was during the years after the First World War, under the management of his son Georges Fouquet, that the firm was to acquire international fame and become recognized as one of the leading jewelers in Paris. The name of Georges's son Jean, who later entered the business as well, eventually became associated with its most innovative creations. Unfortunately the 1929 crash proved to be catastrophic for the House of Fouquet; bankruptcy was unavoidable and in 1936 the shop in the Rue Royale was finally forced to close its doors.
Born in 1828 into a family of tradesmen established at Alencon, Alphonse Fouquet moved to Paris in 1838. Since his parents were financially unable to pay for his studies, he was apprenticed, at the age of 11, to a manufacturer of novelty jewelry. His master had premises in the Marais, traditionally the neighbourhood of jewelers, goldsmiths, clockmakers, engravers and gem-setters.
After a five-year apprenticeship, he left his master and worked for various manufacturers in turn.
Starting out in workshops which produced inexpensive items, he was later employed by such jewelers as Charles Murat, Alexis Falize and Jules Chaise. By nature studious, he constantly sought to improve himself. He was an assiduous worker and was generally highly rated by his various employers, although circumstances and his own needs led him to change jobs frequently.
In 1855 he began to work for Rouvenat, where he first learned the techniques of jewelry making and was quickly caught up in the competitive atmosphere which prevailed on the eve of the first Exposition Universelle in Paris. He committed himself to the competition for a headdress to figure among the wedding presents of Ismail Pasha of Egypt, and created a spray of wild flowers arranged on a woman's profile, life size and modeled in wax. Rouvenat, who had never previously made jewelry using naturalistic flowers, was greatly attracted by Fouquet's project, which was chosen in preference to the other entries.
Encouraged by this first success, Alphonse began to teach himself, without any formal lessons, decorative design and flower drawing from life, and to create wax models for engraved jewelry. From 1854 he made designs which were sold to manufacturers by his brother, a jewelry sales agent.
In 1860 Alphonse joined forces with Eugene Deshayes and set up business at 176 Rue du Temple. Two years later they separated and Fouquet moved to the Rue aux Ours, first to no. 36 and subsequently to no. 53. It was only after his success at the Exposition Universelle of 1878 that he was able to leave the Marais and establish himself at 35 Avenue de l'Opera.
From 1862 to 1868 he created jewelry decorated with interlacing motifs, delicately executed in pierced gold, and mounted with engraved gems, cameos, miniatures and paintings on enamel. Then in 1868 he began to specialize in "fantasy creations" in onyx set with rose-cut diamonds. He also produced jewels which combined cut turquoises with diamonds and pearls.
From the very beginning he employed about thirty workers, producing items for export to other European countries and as far afield as South America, where he sent "rich extravaganzas" made in what he termed "the finest style".
Once his business was well established, he could turn his attention to the exhibition of 1878. He applied himself to this with great enthusiasm, but not without problems; creating outstanding pieces for the exhibition meant adding more work to an already heavy load. He presented various items of jewelry at the exhibition, some of them inspired by lace, such as a bracelet imitating Venetian point-lace and a neck-lace in the form of a "Medici ruff". Other pieces were inspired by the ancient world, notably an "Egyptian" necklace with two sphinxes and a diadem featuring a pair of chimeras confronting each other on both sides of a sapphire.
The jewels set with precious stones have disappeared, but the items made of gold still exist. Four of the surviving pieces are now owned by the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris: a chatelaine in the form of a sphinx, a bracelet decorated with a figure of Diana, a "Renaissance" brooch featuring a portrait of Elizabeth of Austria after Clouet, and a chatelaine adorned with a portrait of the beautiful Florentine Bianca Capello. Designed by Alphonse, they were made in collaboration with the sculptor Carrier-Belleuse, the engravers Honore Bourdoncle and Michaut, and the enameler Grandhomme.
A few years later, at the 1883 World's Fair in Amsterdam, Fouquet exhibited diamond necklaces which could also be worn as tiaras; their central motif was the head and shoulders of a winged woman. They were realistically modeled in the round, and no longer painted like miniatures as on the jewels of 1878. Although the necklaces themselves have disappeared, they are known to us through photographs and two drawings.
Although Froment-Meurice and his son, Jules Wiese and the Fanniere brothers had, long before Fouquet, introduced the representation of the human figure into jewelry on cameos, medals, and bas- and high-reliefs, and Francois Desire Froment-Meurice had even depicted female nudes on a pendant of 1854 showing the "toilet of Venus", Massin's remarks on the subject are always taken as a reference to the jewelry made by Fouquet in 1883. Massin, who shared the opinions of Charles Blanc, author of L'Art et la Parure dans le Vetement (1875), considered that it was contrary to the rules of good taste for a woman to wear a reproduction of the human form on her head, neck or bosom. The matter was to be viewed quite differently a few years later by the creators of Art Nouveau, Lalique and Vever chief among them.
True to his concept of jewelry with finely designed representational subjects, Alphonse retained his preference for using mythical animals as a decorative motif right up to the end of his career. He produced bracelets in which the central motifs were dolphins or swans facing one another. Foliated scrolls and chimeras with coiled tails were used to decorate bangles. One of his favorite themes, which appeared on belt-buckles, brooches and cufflinks, was that of a chimera locked in combat with a serpent. It even formed the centerpiece of an impressive necklace, a wax model of which was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1889. In Yvon's portrait of Madame Alphonse Fouquet, painted in 1887, she is wearing a brooch, pinned to her bodice, fashioned in the form of a pine-cone with a rearing chimera.
Like the other jewelers of his time, Fouquet was interested in floral themes, as is shown by the designs he produced from 1880 to 1895, among them a bodice-clip in the form of convolvulus flowers, owned by the Kunsthandwerk Museum in Frankfurt. Lack of financial resources, however, prevented the creations of the House of Fouquet from approaching the splendour of those masterpieces of naturalistic jewelry which were being made during the same period by Boucheron and Vever.
In 1895, Alphonse handed over the running of the business to his son Georges, then aged thirty-three; but far from forsaking his interest in the jewelry trade, he took advantage of his retirement to write Histoire de ma Vie Industrielle (1898). This not only charts Alphonse's own career from 1839, but also describes the organization and development of the profession in Paris during the second half of the 19th century, explaining the hierarchy that existed within the workshops, the system according to which tasks were assigned, the relationship between the small specialist manufacturers and the well-known big companies, and also the organization of sales through agents.
Georges Fouquet had been working for his father's firm since 1880, learning the craft in the workshops and becoming familiar with the profession. Determined to secure the reputation of the family business, he was clearly interested in new ideas and was fortunate in becoming head of the firm in the key year of 1895, when all the elements which were to characterize Art Nouveau coalesced. That same year industrial art was finally permitted to appear alongside examples of decorative art at the Salon des Artistes Francais in the Champs-Elysées. It was also in 1895 that Lalique exhibited his jewelry under his own name for the first time: previously he had used agents to present his creations to wholesalers.
His work attracted the attention of critics and public alike, who found his designs innovative not only in their inspiration, but also in their execution. Lalique combined with metals and precious stones materials chosen for their decorative effect rather than their intrinsic worth, which punctured the whole notion of value linked to the possession of jewelry.
From that time onwards Lalique, Vever and Fouquet made art jewelry along with their settings of precious stones, and revived the tradition of fine, well-designed gold and enamel jewelry for which France had once been famous. These new items proved so popular that craftsmen and manufacturers began to produce them in increasing quantities. Consequently many inferior examples were bought by the public; the critics, however, were more discerning and recognized Lalique as the leading figure, followed by Vever and then Fouquet - whose creations were always singled out for "their perfect taste", as Henri Vever put it in his La Bijouterie francaise au X IXeme Siècle.
Georges presented his first creations in 1898. Among other items, there was a brooch in the form of a lady's-slipper orchid and a tortoiseshell comb shaped like a butterfly, its wings veined in gold and encrusted with opals. His own style was already defined. The object of his jewels was not to imitate nature, but to draw on the world of flora and fauna for inspiration, to interpret and stylize its models.
Georges always maintained that creativity involved team effort, and he chose as his designer Charles Desrosiers, a former pupil of the painter Luc-Olivier Merson and of Eugene Grasset. Desrosiers, a teacher at a drawing school in Paris, was not connected with any commercial firm and designed jewelry only for the House of Fouquet. He met with Georges twice a week to discuss ideas and orders, and would then sketch the designs in his own workshop. His surviving drawings are undated, but their identification indicates that he designed all the models from 1898 to 1914.
In order to mount the most spectacular display possible at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, Georges sought the services of the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha to add to Desrosiers' contribution. The collaboration with Mucha was probably encouraged by Sarah Bernhardt at the time Fouquet was making her famous snake bracelet. It was usually Lalique who provided Bernhardt's theatre and private jewelry, while Mucha designed those she wore in the posters advertising her plays. In 1889 she asked Fouquet to make a bracelet for her based on drawings by Mucha. It was fashioned as a serpent coiled around the wrist with its head resting on her hand, and was joined by chains, as in some antique jewelry, to a finger-ring also in the form of a snake's head. The craftsmanship of the piece was remarkable not only for Fouquet's work with gold, enamel and opals, but also for the system of hinges which gave it its suppleness.
The pieces which Georges based on Mucha's drawings for the Exposition of 1900 were a departure from his usual style. There were imposing parures, consisting of jewels to adorn the hair or bodice, with chains linking their various components. All that remains of this eye-catching ensembles are some old photographs showing them in glass display cases, also designed by Mucha. Some of the elements, however, still exist, among them a large bodice-clip with a centerpiece featuring the face of a woman in ivory, her hair fashioned from chased gold and surrounded by a halo set with opals.
The central ornament of a large necklace also survives: a miniature of a seated young woman lost in reverie, her hair billowing loosely around her like a wave. Other fragments have been detached from their settings and dispersed; some were later remounted in different settings. The workmanship of these parures is always flawless, whatever material Fouquet was using: different shades of engraved gold, baroque pearls and stones shaped into charms, combined with miniatures painted on ivory or mother-of-pearl, cloisonné a jour enamels, opals or pale-coloured horn.
The critics were either admiring of the inventiveness which evoked a Byzantine ostentation of goddesses with bear arms and breasts, the "eternal feminine", or else they were shocked by these "dreadful harnesses".
While preparing for the exhibition of 1900, Georges was also thinking of moving to new premises with a modern, fashion-able decor that would attract and impress new clients. He chose a location in the Rue Royale opposite Maxim's restaurant, not far from the shop opened by Sandoz in 1895, and commissioned Mucha to design the window displays and the layout of the interior.
For the centre of the façade between the two windows, Mucha designed a bronze bas-relief nearly ten feet high, which depicted a veiled female nude holding out jewelry similar to the pieces he himself had drawn. The salesroom itself was even more elaborate with its counters, decorative wood panelling and sculpture.
Some years later, when Art Nouveau was no longer in fashion, this remarkable decor was to be dismounted; and just after the 1914-18 war it was replaced by a more ordinary design. The original has, however, recently been reassembled and installed by the Paris City Council in the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau, the new extension of the Musee Carnavalet.
In the Rue Royale workshop all the jewelry which was to make Fouquet's reputation was created under the management of the foreman, Louis Fertey. The numerous designs by Desrosiers, old photographs, and illustrations in contemporary journals, all give a clear idea of the genre and style of these pieces. Those which survive demonstrate the high quality of their workmanship: the way the gold is treated, the use of unusual stones like opals and baroque pearls, and in particular the skill in cloisonné a jour enamel.
The enameler Georges used was Etienne Tourette, who had studied under the famous Louis Houillon. Tourette presented his first enamel appliqués for jewels in 1897, and from then on he worked for Fouquet, who wrote: "I particularly liked the way enamel gave a jewel its bright colour. Tourette and I studied ways in which we could improve the vivid enamels to catch and reflect the light." For this purpose, a background of worked gold would be covered with a fine layer of translucent enamel. Another technique was also devised to create a transparent effect in metal cloisons without a background for the petals of flowers and insects' wings. This was more suitable for earrings or hair-ornaments. Tourette, however, sought to increase the possible range by the use of translucent enamels. In the case of jewels to be worn against the skin or on clothing, he would scatter small fragments of metal (pailions) into the enamel, or engrave it with ripples of acid, in order to make it sparkle when it caught the light.
The workshop produced the various types of jewels popular at that time; diadems, brooches, belt-buckles, bracelets, rings, combs of pale-coloured horn and choker-style necklaces known as "dog-collars", which generally consisted of a small plaque held in place by rows of pearls. There were also pendants, necklaces decorated with a central motif, and chains which were worn knotted and which had a small metal tag at each end. Bodice-clips, triangular in shape, were intended to be worn in the middle of the bust.
The themes of nature, both flora and fauna, were frequently exploited and their various elements combined: for example, a large bodice-clip which featured a winged serpent and a bundle of seaweed. Fouquet used the wavy lines popular in the period to suggest a woman's hair, the plumes of a bird's tail, or the stem of a flower.
Mostly, the motifs were symmetrically divided by an axis at various points and set in a frame of small diamonds. Nature was not imitated; unlike Lalique, Fouquet did not reproduce "real" flowers. Nor were there examples of symbolism, as in the pieces designed by Grasset for Vever.
At the Brussels Exhibition in 1910, Fouquet presented jewels of a new type: circular pendants and a diadem in the form of a bandeau consisting of five oval motifs. In the centre of each of these ovals was a large aquamarine surrounded by an openwork design made up of small arches set with lines of diamonds. Georges had such a strong predilection for this blue stone that dealers dubbed him "the father of aquamarine".
The changing style in jewelry beginning around 1910 was linked to developments in women's fashion, which underwent a revolution after the First World War. Long cumbersome dresses were replaced by new designs made up, in soft materials. Skirts became shorter, revealing first the ankles, then the legs. The waist was either very slightly accentuated, or else not at all. The neck, shoulders and arms were left bare. Choker-style necklaces were replaced by strings of pearls, tassels on chains or strands of braiding. Fibula brooches were worn as clips or belt-buckles and caught in folds of drapery. Bear arms were adorned with bracelets.
Hairstyles also changed. There were no more chignons to be embellished with combs or diadems. Instead, hair was cut short and worn with a headband. Long, dangling earrings were de rigueur and hats were adorned with decorative pins.
As new colours and colour combinations became fashionable so new materials were brought into use by jewelers. The vogue for black and white, for instance, was reflected in black onyx jewelry set with diamonds. This austere combination was later enlivened by the addition of coral, jade and lapis-lazuli, and semi-precious stones like aquamarine, amethyst and topaz. Georges particularly admired large stones and anything out of the ordinary, for instance old engraved jade and matrix turquoise. He also favoured as an elegant setting for stones rock-crystal which had had the polish removed.
In 1925, when there was a question of mounting an Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs, Georges played a signify-cant role in convincing the exhibitors that they must be bolder and freshen up their objectives. In 1906, Georges had been secretary and recorder of the Exposition International in Milan; the position he held in 1925 as President of the Jewelry Section was even more important, and the book he coordinated after the event, La Bijouterie, la Joaillerie, la Bijouterie Fantaisie au XXeme Siècle, which described all the works featured in the exhibition, remains a most useful document.
During this period, Louis Fertey was the principal designer of models produced in the workshop, but for the display at the 1925 Exposition Georges Fouquet also called on artists such as the architect Eric Bagge, whom he had asked, in his capacity as president, to plan the hall for the jewelry design section. In addition he commissioned work from the painter Andre Leveille and the poster-artist Cassandre (Andre Mouron), and the pieces based on their designs attracted a good deal of attention. They are well known to us from photographs and various glowing accounts that appeared in the press. A few surviving examples enable us to appreciate their beauty, originality and superb workmanship.
A new style was born with the effort of each of the thirty jewelers invited to show "only pieces of genuine originality, drawing on new sources of inspiration." Jewelry, like all the other sections of decorative art, bore the stamp of the times; shapes were simplified, even made geometric, and reduced under the influence of Cubism to a juxtaposition of abstract motifs. The exhibition had the merit of familiarizing the public with the new production, and over the next few years costume jewelers were to show the effects of this change.
Georges Fouquet never tired of repeating that a jewel should "be in harmony with the personality of the woman who wears it" and that "it forms part of her toilette". At one point, he might have convinced him-self that his ideas were to be realized, so well matched were haute couture and jewelry; and in 1927 he even persuaded the couturier Jean Patou to feature jewelry from the House of Fouquet in presenting his collections. But in the years that followed, the two types of design became separated again. The idea of linking jewelry and fashion was possible when the jewels were of only moderate value, composed of inexpensive stones. During the 1930s, however, the use of extremely valuable gems made jewelry a speculative investment, and as a result settings became less original. Couturiers individualized their styles and created their own collections of accessories and jewelry, while clothing manufacturers produced standardized streetwear in bulk.
In 1929 Georges took the initiative in arranging an exhibition devoted to jewelry and goldsmiths' work at which he re-stated his views on design: "Every piece of jewelry must be based on an idea, those made of a single, costly stone as well as those made up of several gems. A jewel should not give the impression of a company badge through the repeated uniformity of its setting."
The name of Jean Fouquet first appeared at the exhibition of 1925. In 1926,1927 and 1928 he went on to design necklaces and pendants, bracelets and rings of marked originality. All were large pieces, their workmanship and materials in harmony with their bold design. Most were made of white gold, their surfaces treated with a flat tint alternating with lacquered areas. The creative spirit behind these jewels links them with those of the young artists of that generation: Raymond Templier, Paul Brandt and Gerard Sandoz. In 1931 Jean published Bijoux et Orfevrerie, in which he set forth his creed: "A jewel should consist of pieces visible from afar; miniatures are loathsome." And he expressed his personal view on the ultimate aim of creation: "Jewels and pieces of goldwork should constitute works of art while meeting the requirements of industrial items."
It was during this period that geometric designs were being succeeded by 'curved lines: Jean Fouquet created the first ring in this style in 1931, and a bracelet and a ring that figured in the 1937 Exposition testify to its culmination. Although the House of Fouquet had by then been forced to close, it participated in the exhibition with pieces created by independent manufacturers after models by Jean Fouquet and the sculptor Jean Lambert-Rucki.
After the Second World War, Jean Fouquet continued to take on private com-missions, and the work was done for him by Charles and Pierre Fertey, son and grandson of Georges's foreman. In the 1950s he created jewels made of rounded wires moulded into either brooches in the form of a kind of loop decorated with gems, or rings shaped like a spring. Working with the enameler Gaston Richet, a former pupil of Tourette, he brought back into fashion translucent enamel, which was used to create palm designs, waves or leaves.
The Fouquets held an important position in Paris, mainly between 1878 and 1930, a highly creative period. Individually Alphonse, Georges and Jean made significant and original contributions to the development of fashion and taste. Through drawings and old photographs we are able to appreciate their entire production, and we recognize their originality by means of the great number of their jewels that survive.
Writer – Thames & Hudson