Carved bowenite pen tray set in gold decorated in …
Carved bowenite pen tray set in gold decorated in …
Pair of old mine pavé diamond Georgian drop earrings with bow accent, set in silver.
English, ca. 1780.
Length: 2 1/16 inches
These earrings appear in our Ear Candy exhibition video series.
Gold-mounted and carved bowenite travelling stamp moistener with vari-colored gold swags, garlands, and rubies. The lid screws into the base for security.
Fabergé, workmaster M. Perchin. St. Petersburg, ca. 1895.
Height: 2 1/2 inches
Provenance: Lansdell K. Christie, New York, an American businessman and art collector.
It seems fitting to conclude this Hidden Histories series with a curtain call. Pictured above is a curtain design for the Ballets Russes by Léon Bakst (1866-1924).
The world-renowned artist and theater designer was born Lev Samoilovich Rozenberg in Grodno, Russia (now Hrodna, Belarus) into a lower middle-class Jewish family. His talent emerged early and at age twelve he won a prize in an art contest, which alarmed his parents. Not wishing to fan the artistic flame, they contacted the famous Russian sculptor Mark Antokolsky, hoping he would discourage Bakst’s artistic pursuits. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, convinced of Bakst’s potential, he praised the young artist.
Perhaps Antokolsky saw himself in the young boy, for, in many ways, the two artists had parallel lives. As emerging Jewish artists, they faced similar hurdles on their paths to artistic greatness. Both were part of a Jewish Renaissance in Russia, when Jews began increasingly embracing secular culture and assimilating into modern life. It has been said that Jewish artists in Russia had two options – to either hide or embrace their heritage. As discussed in a previous blog post, Antokolsky managed to straddle both worlds. Bakst, however, as some would argue, appears indifferent to his Jewish roots.
Russian art scholar John Milner said of Bakst’s Jewish identity:
“His Jewishness gave him a skepticism. He didn’t use any Byzantium or Christian themes and nor was he interested in icon painting, which had recently been rediscovered in Russia, because it was Christian oriented. He had a sense of separateness as he did not totally identify with Russian culture.”
Christian art and Bakst’s sense of separateness collided during his enrollment at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. In 1886, his third year of study, he submitted a Pieta for a competition and scandalously contemporized the subjects by depicting Mary and the disciples as impoverished Jews. He was consequently dismissed from the Academy.
Later, at the time of his exhibition in 1889, he changed his name to a variation of Baxter, his maternal grandmother’s name. It has been suggested that Bakst changed his name to sound less Jewish, making it easier to assimilate and rise socially.
Bakst clearly had a conflicted Jewish identity. Upon marrying a Lutheran woman in 1903, he converted. After his divorce in 1910 he returned to Judaism. This renewal of faith later prompted the addition of a Star of David into his personal letterhead, a change he made in the 1920s.
Regardless of his feelings towards his heritage, Bakst successfully made a name for himself through his art. Famed and lauded for his designs for the internationally renowned Ballets Russes, Bakst revolutionized theater design, elevating it to its own art form. Traditionally, theater design color palettes consisted of pale, pastel hues, but Bakst was not one for tradition.
Bakst received great praise for his use of color in costume design by selecting dizzying hues matching the movement of the dancers. This sense of movement is clearly prevalent throughout his theatrical portfolio, exemplified in this curtain design for the 1924 ballet Istar. Theatrical curtains are the audience’s first introduction to a production, and this example must have created quite a bit of excitement and anticipation for the performance.
The shades of green, blue, and pink may seem like a strange combination, yet together they form a vibrant backdrop. The curtain design captures the vibrancy and movement of the stage, with swirls of color and folds of fabric ready to billow and sway out of the frame. The design is imbued with an Orientalist flavor. European artists took inspiration from the East for centuries, a trend that reached a new height in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. For a Russian artist like Bakst, native to a country which was long conflicted regarding its identity placed between the East and West, Orientalism must have been particularly appealing. Bakst described Orientalism as “the Persian and Russian manner mingled.” The delicate, naturalistic drawings of pomegranates, flowers and white peacocks heightened with gold are drawn in a simplified manner commonly associated with woodblock printing. These motifs are contrasted against a rich cobalt blue ground. The artist’s signature device of rhythmic movement is evidenced in the parting of the curtains on either side to reveal two different exotic patterns at the base, and in the veils, also heightened with gold, billowing from behind the curtain. The majestic birds may have been inspired by the white peacocks which roamed the garden of the Marchesa Casati, known for favoring a parasol of peacock feathers, whom Bakst met on an early visit to Venice with Diaghilev and Nijinsky.
Bakst treated his set and costume drawings like works of art to be placed on a wall. Here at A La Vieille Russie we present such an artwork housed in the plain, wooden frame original to the workshop. The backing board is stamped with C. [?]asamatt/Depositeur Excluse des oeuvres de Leon BAKST/112 Bd Malesherbes, which may have been stamped when the contents of the artist’s studio were sold. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a black and white preparatory drawing for the Istar theater curtain in their permanent collection.
Bakst collaborated with the famous Russian ballerina and patron, Ida Rubinstein, to bring Istar to the Paris Opera, where it had its premier on July 10, 1924. It was among his greatest works and his last to reach the stage. By the time that final curtain fell, Bakst accomplished international renown as an innovative theater designer and artist of great talent.
This next installment of “Hidden Histories” examines the celebrated Fabergé silversmith Julius Rappoport (1851-1917).
He was born Born Isaac Ambramovich Rappoport in the Datnovskii Jewish community in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1880 he began apprenticing in Berlin under the silversmith Scheff, and by 1884 he became a master and returned to St. Petersburg where he became Fabergé’s head silversmith. His workshop contributed to a range of objects, from animal sculptures to large dinner services. In the early 1890s he converted to Lutheranism and changed his name to Julius. Following his retirement in the early 1900s he left the workshop and its equipment to his workmen which became the First St. Petersburg Silver Artel.
Beyond these few facts we know little, but Rappoport’s material legacy compensates for his biographical obscurity. In fact, Rappoport’s silver is so revered that connoisseurs of Fabergé’s oeuvre often comment that his silver production was among the finest pieces produced by the Fabergé workshop. Below are just a few examples:
Edwardian era jeweled “Japonisme” corsage pendant brooch with three shakudo-esque lacquer panels surrounded by diamonds, further decorated with garlands, bowknots, and diamond tassels, set in platinum.
American, possibly Dreicer & Co.
New York, ca. 1914
Length: 6 inches
Pair of Rococo bowenite and silver two-light candelabra.
By Fabergé, workmaster J. Rappoport, ca. 1900.
Height: 8 1/2 inches
Outside of a select circle of artists, jewelry aficionados and world-class violinists, the name Henryk Kaston probably does not ring any bells. Children and their parents, however, know the names Nemo, Marlin, Dory, and Gill, the world over thanks to the enormously popular 2003 Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo. The characters have since become synonymous with their respective species but two decades before they were swimming on the big screen as animated art, Kaston gave them just as much life and personality as wearable art in dazzling precious materials.
Kaston’s Clownfish brooch is rendered in gold with bright white diamonds and black enamel stripes. The precise proportions and minute details, such as the golden scales visible through the bright orange guilloché enamel, attest to his extensive research in marine biology. Kaston’s Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) is rendered in gold with a cabochon sapphire eye, warm yellow diamonds, bright white diamonds, vibrant royal blue and black enamel. While the forgetful character of Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) was a Pacific Regal Blue Tang, their flat, wide form as well as their coloring is very similar. It is easy to see why both the animators as well as Kaston were drawn to these similar fish species. The Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus) aka Gill (voiced by Willem Dafoe) has been one of the most iconic coral reef fish as it is a favorite of photographers and bathroom decorators alike. Kaston’s Moorish Idol rendered in gold with a tiger-eye, warm yellow diamonds, bright white diamonds and black enamel is striking in both its coloration and bold form. The dramatic crested dorsal fin is an attractive form that catches the eye, be it animated or bejeweled.
As a young man with only $5 in his pocket, Henryk Kaston emigrated from Poland to New York City during World War II. He went on to become a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, an inventor, one of the finest bow-makers of all time as well as a master jeweler. The ever-modest Kaston once recalled “I’m not really sure that I want to be known as just a bowmaker or a jeweler or a violinist. All these things are equally important to me; but I’ve never felt a need to advertise myself”. Regardless of the medium, his talents are evident in his refined work. While the musical instrument community chided Kaston for not solely devoting himself to bowmaking, his friend Salvador Dali, the world renowned surrealist artist and master jeweler, encouraged him to also focus on creating fine jewelry.
Kaston produced a limited collection of Dali’s earlier fine jewelry designs, most notably the iconic crying eye, honeycomb heart, the Marilyn Monroe lips and the Tristan and Isolde brooches. The Dali jewels are Kaston’s most well known pieces of jewelry, but as these fish brooches attest, he was much more than just a producer of someone else’s designs.
In their extensive research, the Pixar team surely came across the work of Dr. Herbert Axelrod and his publication The Tropical Fish Hobbyist. The world-renowned scientist and tropical fish expert started the publication in 1952 and it continues on today. In the early 1980s, Dr. Axelrod gave Henryk Kaston many books on tropical fish for him to peruse. The vibrant beauty and natural grace of the exotic fish inspired Kaston to again turn his expert hand towards jewelry. He scrupulously studied the nuances, patterns and characteristics of the fish that he found the most captivating. Axelrod applauded Kaston’s bejeweled fish and in 1986, three of his brooches, photographed in an aquarium, graced the cover of the November issue of TFH.
The playful but shy nature of the Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) aka Marlin (the fretful father voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (the rebellious yet loving son voiced by Alexander Gould) inspired the story of Finding Nemo. Andrew Stanton, the co-writer and director of the film had always been drawn to marine life and had toyed around with the idea of creating an animated underwater world for years. The plotline fell into place when he later came across a photograph of two Clownfish peeking out from an anemone in an issue of National Geographic. They appeared to be playing peek-a-boo and Stanton was enthralled. We will never know if the Clownfish also served as the initial inspiration for Kaston’s line of fish jewelry, but of the thousands of species of tropical fish, it is notable that both Kaston and the Pixar animators were drawn to the Clownfish, the Angelfish and the Moorish Idol. Despite the vastly different mediums, both Kaston and the Pixar animators achieved the perfect balance of faithful biological representation while giving each fish a distinct and charming personality.
Pictured above is an ornamental ladle called a kovsh, a type of Russian drinking vessel in the shape of a duck. Traditionally, various vessels were intended for different beverages. Kovshi, which come in a range of sizes, were intended for drinking kvass or beer. They were also used for drinking mead, a honey based drink that varied in flavor from using different fruits and berries. Silver kovshi were used for white mead, while golden kovshi were used for red mead.
They were originally made of wood and some early kovshi were made of tightly woven cloth. In the 16th century, they began to be made in silver and increasingly assumed a ceremonial status. The kovshi in our collection are nineteenth and early twentieth century pieces of the Old Russian style, seen in the multicolored enameling inspired by sixteenth and seventeenth-century patterns. A yearning for a Russian art unmarred by Western influence contributed to what became the Russian Revival in the 1870s and 1880s. Interest in exploring early Russian artistic traditions provided craftsmen with a rich body of sources for creating beautiful, distinctly Russian works of art. Cloisonné enameling is but one example; another is trompe l’oeil, discussed in this blog post. While many such pieces were ornamental, a few could function as punch bowls or salts depending on their size.
These pieces illustrate how time and again the functional and artistic merits of the decorative arts can be appreciated both independently and harmoniously.