Chic Lalique

As waves of turn-of-the-century nostalgia follow in the wake of Titanic, the unsinkable, ever profitable movie, trendees are showing newfound interest in the era by romanticizing it with dinners at Maxim's, art nouveau, and, well, luxurious voyages on ocean liners.

Lucky for us, the Dallas Museum of Art is offering local nostalgia buffs a glimpse at that time's wealthy international set by bringing to town The Jewels of Lalique, an exhibit featuring the exotic work of Rene Lalique, a French artist-jeweler whose pieces have come to symbolize the best of art nouveau elegance.

Under the patronage of art admirers, intellectuals, and avant-garde artists such as Symbolist writer Jean Lorrain and actress Sarah Bernhardt, for whom he created flamboyant stage jewelry, Lalique felt free to reject the prevailing standards in jewelry design and began to experiment. He incorporated much of what was in vogue during this intensely artistic period, using simple shapes found in nature and emphasized in Symbolist imagery, such as swans, butterflies, and seductive women. Valuing creativity over costliness, he employed unusual materials--glass, horn, and colored stones--to produce what was essentially wearable art.

He worked as a jeweler for 25 years and was wildly successful. Introduced to the American public in 1904, his art was praised by Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's oldest daughter, and in 1912, a Lalique brooch was worn by Woodrow Wilson's wife in her official portrait.

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Like all stories worth telling (remember the Titanic?), this one also has its touch of romantic tragedy. In 1890, Lalique met Augustine-Alice Ledru, the great love of his life, and during their years together, his career peaked as he produced some of his finest pieces. However, after her death in 1909, he abandoned his jewelry-making altogether. From then until his death in 1945, he worked only in cast glass, making the vases, perfume bottles, and statuettes that became his trademark.

Today, Lalique's jewelry and glass works have achieved cult status, and they continue to impress collectors with their expressiveness and delicate beauty. The exhibit is worth seeing, both for the timeless beauty of the art and the nostalgia it evokes for the cultural climate and chic sophistication of fin de siecle Europe.

--Juliana Barbassa

The Jewels of Lalique will be shown at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 North Harwood, from September 13, 1998, to January 10, 1999. Tickets are free for DMA members, $10 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, and $5 for children. Call (214) 922-1200 for information on lectures and films relating to the exhibit.

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