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Rene Lalique: Art Nouveau, Symbolism And Naturalism

Nov 6, 2007
Whilst Rene Jules Lalique's childhood years seem to be shrouded in somewhat of a mystery, it is known that he was born to Jules and Olype Berthellemy Lalique on the 6th April 1860. For the first two years of his life the family lived in Ay, in the Champagne region of France, about a hundred miles to the northeast of Paris.

By 1862 the family had moved to Paris where his father worked as a merchant dealing in novelties. Throughout his childhood years, Rene and his family made frequent return visits to their rural roots to see family and friends. This is where and when his love of nature began to develop. He loved to take walks with his grandfather into the surrounding countryside and woodland, where he studied nature at close quarters. Nature fascinated him; he loved everything about it, from vegetation to animals.

He began his education at Turgot Lycee near the Parisian suburb of Vincennes, where he studied art and was awarded first prize in a drawing competition during his time there.

At the age of sixteen, shortly after his father's death, Rene, in all probability, steered by his mother, embarked upon his apprenticeship with Louis Aucoc, one of the leading Parisian jewelers of the day. His time there was spent helping Louis in the creation of the then popular Rococo styled jewelry and learning the tools, materials and techniques of his trade. He also took evening classes at the local school of decorative arts.

Having finished his training, in 1878, Rene moved to the London suburb of Sydenham where he studied at The Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature for a couple of years. During his stay in England, Lalique spent much of his spare time at London's museums; he loved them.

By 1880, Rene had returned home to Paris and took up training as a sculptor in his spare time whilst working as a wallpaper and fabric designer through the day.

A year later, he had settled into working as a professional jewelry designer for Jules Destape, this would be his career for the next twenty years. In addition to holding down a full-time job he also took on freelance work for some of the larger Parisian jewelry houses.

By 1885, Rene was working for himself. Destape retired and ownership of his business was transferred to Lalique. Now, with a fully staffed workshop and free from the restrictions of working for someone else, he could fully concentrate on his own Art Nouveau designs. Which, featured heavily in the French jewelry trade magazine "Le Bijou" and were met with much admiration and imitation from his competitors. Lalique's "magic" was in the way he steered clear of the usual precious metals and expensive gems-stones, instead, concentrating more on cheaper materials such as: translucent enamels, semi-precious stones and ivory etc.

By 1900, Lalique had reached the pinnacle of his jewelry career. He exhibited at the Exposition Universelle Internationale in Paris and won international praise for the way that he intertwined symbolism and naturalism. However, dismayed by the way that his work was constantly being copied, Rene's attention began to drift away from his jewelry "art forms" and toward glassmaking.

By 1909, Rene had begun making perfume bottles for Coty. Prior to this time, most perfumes were sold in plain bottles. Lalique drew upon his experience and created bottles that evoked the nature of the perfume that they contained. By the Nineteen Twenties, he was also creating bottles for some of the greatest French perfumeries of the era: Houbigant, d'Orsay and Molinard to name but a few.

Within a few years, his glassmaking talents had expanded to include: statuettes, vases, tableware, bowls and, amongst other things, architectural panels. These panels could be found aboard the greatest ocean liners of the day and decorating the dining car of The Orient Express.

It didn't stop there. His glass mascots could be found adorning the hood of many of the more luxurious cars of the Roaring Twenties. Indeed, these are the most sought after collectibles today.

The Lalique factory closed in 1939 for the duration of World War II. Unfortunately, Rene died on the 5th May 1945 and never witnessed its reopening.
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