From Japan: Edo Era comb, 18th Century, H: 8 cm. W: 12.2 cm. The plot is about 5 crows flying in the clouds at sunset. As was the style, the crows were not drawn in perspective.
It is made of shell and encased in a metal frame. The crows are raised and painted with black lacquer, as are the teeth. However instead of gold maki-e, which would have been more traditional, this artist chose to use varnish. This way, he could portray the outlines of the sun on clouds, which hold different hues of the same color when the sun sets. The hues and outlines of a sunset the artist achieved with varnish is what makes this comb a masterpiece. It resides at the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam.
You can see crows portrayed in the same style in the Art Nouveau combs of Lucien Galliard, as Galliard hired Japanese craftsmen in his workshop. Here are two examples. The first was made in 1903 from shell and shows three birds. The clouds are implied by cuts in the tortoiseshell.
The second is Galliard’s famous Bluebird comb, which sold at Christie’s for $218,000 on Oct 21, 2009. There are three birds here, also, and the clouds are made from white enamel on an open frame.
In 1900, enchanted observers marveled at how light played with color, as it reflected off leaves or the wings of a dragonfly.
However, unlike moths, dragonflies don’t navigate by the light of the moon. Instead, they use sunlight’s energy on their wings to fly. Dragonflies swarm with predatory precision, catching mosquitos with their feet. Indeed, one dragonfly can eat from 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes per day. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve. Lalique knew this and would not transform voracious killer-gangs into angelic creatures. He created swarms.
In this famous tiara, c. 1900, it looks as if the dragonflies are pursuing light, a faceted aquamarine, because they are all going in the same direction. This is not the case. Lalique was trying to show how beams of “sunlight” from the aquamarine shined down on the dragonflies’ wings to give them energy. Look at how the wings change color, and draw diagonal lines from the aquamarine to the plique-a-jour enamel.
Just as the tiara had fittings that allowed it to be worn as a brooch, so this hair comb had a chain fitting so it could be worn as a necklace. Also made c. 1900, it sold at Sotheby’s on 18 May 2018 for $262,269. In this comb, six dragonflies in a swarm go in three different directions instead of just one. The light source: a citrine. Again, look at how the light source changes the color of the wings.
French Art Nouveau was a combination of the Japanese aesthetic, where perspective was executed precisely, and French Symbolism, which elongated things to express a poetic idea. However, in both this tiara and hair comb, the insects are not stretched to make you think differently about them. So where is the French Symbolism? The elongation lies in the beams of light emanating from the jewel.
By seeing what is visible, Lalique is making you see what is invisible. These pieces portray the energy field of light, which gives flight to a dragonfly. To understand them, you must look at them with two different sets of eyes.
Decay is sensual in itself. The Mediterranean Sea Holly’s cone flower turns brown in the fall, and its silvery blue bracts cannot hold water anymore. In a flower’s life cycle, death comes without tears.
With a Japanese inner eye, Lalique must have noticed the sea hollies in a garden one day, as their decaying colors stood out. When he got home, he opened his drawing book. “Part yellow, chiseled gold, chiseled green-silver parts, violet parts sculpted in the horn, and patinated silver — blue parts — blue sapphire glass cabochons,” he wrote.
In French Symbolism, clarity is ephemeral, but the important thing is that the artist had a vision at all. Lalique saved his vision on a comb.
It is a curvilinear mirror image of two gold cone flowers with patinated silver stems and leaves. These plants frame the top of a large sapphire-colored glass cabochon. The lighter oxidized silver leaves in the middle, whose gold veins show they are not getting water, are part of a second plant. Although they frame the bottom of the cabochon, the second plant continues in delicately carved horn on the bottom of the comb, with the stems doubling as the comb’s outside tines.
The signature of a hand-made Lalique piece is also correct.
I did not see any silver-green or violet in this comb. Perhaps when he started working, he decided to keep those ideas in his drawing book. However, Lalique’s engineering genius is in full force here, because the silvery blue color on the leaves is achieved through the reflected light from the sapphire-colored glass cabochons.
That was his original idea, and along with all the other elements of this comb, it sold at auction on 6 June 2015 for $205,000.
Are many beautiful things for sale, each with their own story, that condense post into one subject is difficult. So I have buffet of things today. Just click the picture or link see more details about each item.
In Sotheby’s Unsold category:
On 6 December 2002, this Henri Vever gold, enamel, and horn hair comb was estimated at $8,000 to $12,000, but did not sell.
On 13 June 2000, this French gold, enamel, and diamond Eugenie comb, c. 1870, was estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 GBP, but also did not sell.
Sotheby’s Upcoming Auction:
Up for auction on 14 November 2014 is brass Alexander Calder hair pin, c. 1940 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A16974). Estimate $50,000 – $70,000. To me, this comb looks like a female body wired into a frame. The estimate is consistent with the Calder market, and the interested to know what it fetches.
Will it appreciate in value, as did Calder’s silver “Figa” hair comb?
“Figa” in Slavic and Turkish cultures is hand gesture made to represent male or female sexual organs. The first and second fingers wrap the thumb. It could in response to money request or plea for physical labor. In Ancient Rome, the gesture was ward off evil spirits.
Calder gifted it artist Frances J. Whitney, c. 1948 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A22629). It could just see her wearing it with a geometrically cut black dress to charity ball, with no one else knowing what it meant but her.
On 15 November 2006, it purchased from Whitney estate for $57,000. On 14 November 2013, that buyer sold for 137,000.
That Live Auctioneers, another comb caught my attention. It is Russian, c. 1908-1917, silver, and made Fabergé work master Anders Michelson (marked AM). The comb has eight tortoiseshell prongs and a beautiful hinge that fits over to entire top. Michelson used niello, black mixture of copper, silver, and lead sulphides, to inlay the dogs and floral pattern on tiara. The auction starts on 13 November 2014, and the opening bid is €300.
Michael Backman Gallery
Michael Backman Ltd. this selling pair of gold and at gilded silver-filigree dragon hair pins from China’s Qianlong Period (1735-1796). They have dragon heads, each, which have turquoise cabochon. Openwork hair ornaments were known as “tongzan” and were worn from Ming Dynasty onwards.
Also on sale this comb from Solomon Islands. It is faa, or man’s woven comb from the Kwaio People, Malaita, Solomon Islands. Woven from yellow-orchid and coconut-palm-frond fibres, the comb was dyed with that geru root. Its teeth are made of fern wood.
The last lot to feature from Michael Backman is jaw-dropping collection of 38 Indonesian gold ornaments, c. 800 AD. It is largest set of gold regalia ever collected for statue in Central Java, Indonesia. Their script on chest cord translates as “‘The weight of pailut with the diadem: 2 suvarṇa, 1 māṣa, 2 kupaṅ’”
Some Lovely Things on E-Bay
Never dismiss E-Bay. A Māori Paikea comb with ivory patina to-die-for was listed by God-Save-Whom for $9.95 with no reserve. The description was “Possibly African.”
It is There are 6 bids on it, including 2 experienced bidders. It’s real tortoiseshell. As printing, are 3 days and 11 hours this auction.
It is Their seller thinks French. It could French or Edwardian English because jewelers in both countries made these types of pins. The auction has 4 days to go.
Of authors, Miriam Slater, as selling this It is rare, it is real, and I’d get my hands on it if I could.
Choosing one amongst many beautiful things is difficult. Mustn’t we just have them all.
To have fun researching more items like these please consult our Resource Library and these books:
Victorian diamond brooches came with different settings, so they could be worn separately or together as a tiara. Art Nouveau brooches could also serve multiple purposes. Indeed, some were designed as a tiara and ended up as a brooch. Such is the case with this bee-and-flower ornament designed by Rene Lalique in 1905/6. A pencil-and-ink watercolor on paper of a tiara topped with this ornament resides in the Lalique Museum Collection in Paris.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, “The Jewels of Lalique,” p. 195
However, during the design process, Lalique might have changed his mind. When the piece was finished, it was fitted to be a brooch or corsage ornament. Lalique used gold, translucent enamel on gold, cast glass, and brilliant-cut diamonds. He created part of a tree, where the branches attach to the center. The piece resides in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and is also dated 1905/6.
Like the Japanese, Lalique embraced the insignificance of human beings in nature, giving animals, insects, plants, and trees more importance. His Symbolic designs stretched bare tree trunks to create a wooded network for the stories he was trying to tell. The wooded lake at Clairefontaine inspired this study for a comb. Tree trunks border a watery landscape. A leafy mass provides shade. The plants are detailed. There is depth of field, and branches reflect on the water.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 154
His “Tree Branches” comb was made from carved horn with a patina, c. 1900/1.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 155
Indeed, one can see a Japanese influence when viewing this gold-painted tortoiseshell comb with leaves and berries of black lacquer from the Edo era.
blog: Japonisme, by Lotus Green
In an article, “The Insect in Decoration,” by P. Verneuil in The Craftsman magazine, c. 1903/4, Lalique contributed a comb study of grasshoppers. Verneuil notes how artists had fallen for dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers because of their unique shapes, and reflective wings and eyes, which had a “magical rainbow effect.”
When Lalique made the comb, c. 1902/4, he used carved and painted horn, as well as three triangular green tourmalines.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 85
Whether he used cast-glass, enamel, jewels, or carved and painted horn, Lalique made these materials do new and different things. His jewelry was a watercolor of mirrored surfaces, reflecting plants and insects, and philosophically reflecting man’s negligible imprint on nature.
For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:
The Creative Museum just acquired another masterpiece by Auguste Bonaz.
Made c. 1920 in Oyonnax, five medallions of painted leaves and rhinestones rest in the middle of a curved frame. The medallions are held in place by vertical lines.
I thought this might be a good opportunity to peruse some of the Creative Museum’s other Bonaz combs. Here are two combs from his Art Nouveau period, c. 1910.
Two delicately carved and painted peacocks hold a green medallion in a comb shaped for their tails. How lovely it would look when worn with an embroidered dress.
There are gold accents on this dragon’s wings and head, and his eyes are made of yellow paste stones.
In his Art Deco period, c. 1920…
I call this comb “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining.” Tines are used in a uniquely imaginative way, depicting both the rain pouring from the clouds, but also in their usual function at the bottom of the comb.
Black was the favorite color of the Art Deco pallette. In this comb, Bonaz put a turquoise cabachon in the middle, surrounded it with mosaic-like decorations, and lined everything with tiny silver dots.
Bonaz’s mantilla combs are unmatched. In this ivory one, the intricate decoration entrances the eye.
Celluloid was able to be shaped as far as the imagination could go, thanks to the comb-making machines at Oyonnax. In this comb, Bonaz suspends seven balls on an architectural frame.
Spring is full of flowers, butterflies, Japanese fans, and a bird of paradise at Alexandre de Paris. The pieces mix layers of clear acetate with solid forms in different colors, decorated with rhinestones. Online, you see mostly black. In the stores, the limited-edition pieces are available in beige and pink.
The most complex and magnificent piece this year is this bird of paradise, as it is a mixture of solid acetate with rhinestones, geometric plumes, and feathers.
Another stunning piece is made up of three fans with butterfly decorations. Taking a Japanese theme, the first fan has one butterfly — a solid-acetate black center with white rhinestones backed up by two layers of clear acetate. On the second fan, to the left, you have the black butterfly upside down underneath a solid white butterfly, which has a touch of gold of the bottom right wing. The third fan at the back has the black and white butterflies juxtaposed.
My third favorite is this calla lily bandeaux. Beige outsides contrast with black rhinestoned insides, not exactly representative of the real flower, but very much in the French art deco tradition.
The roses and butterflies will come in many delightful spring colors this year.
For more scholarly research, please examine these books:
Many women practice their art secretly. Emily Dickinson had fewer than 12 poems published in her lifetime until her sister Lavinia discovered 1800 of them in a locked chest after she died. Jane Austen was first published anonymously.
Collecting is also an art. To do it well, you must have an encyclopedic knowledge of the culture, history, and, if signed, the artists who made objects of significance. Only then are you able to pick the best things, which are historically correct.
I know women comb collectors whose life commitment was total, scholarship voluminous, but who never published, photographed or catalogued their work. I do not feel alone in saying I’d like to change that. Therefore, it is a pleasure for me to present a few pieces from The Frances Wright Collection.
Victorian England was sublimely influenced by foreign cultures. For example, the French conquest of Algeria between 1830 and 1847 sparked an interest in the Islamic art of North Africa. The Algerian knot, looped chains, tassels, and pendants started to appear in hair combs. Called the Peigne d’Alger, the style is also known as Victorian Algerian.
This comb has three metal flowers on the tiara, which are decorated with black beads. Three black-beaded pendants of different lengths hang beneath the middle flower. Dangling from the outer flowers are two tassels and two other pendants. The final pendant hangs from the middle tassel. The entire decoration is hinged to a horn comb.
This Peigne d’Alger has an open metal frame, which holds 5 faux pearls with a smaller one attached underneath. The three middle pearls are surrounded by tassels and circles of seed pearls. Connecting chains and pendants of individual pearls hang from the 5 pearls in the frame. What makes this balance is how the different sizes of pearls are mixed. This decoration is also attached to a horn comb.
When I first saw this Peigne d’Alger, I called it a waterfall of pearls. Five faux pearls are attached to each side of one metal horseshoe-shaped fitting. The end-stubs that hold them are a part of the design. A larger pearl sits on top. The decoration is hinged to a horn comb.
A brass frame with a bow in the center, two holes on the edges, and diagonal lines in the center supports a geometric design of cords with gold rings to hold them in place. In this Peigne d’Alger, the cords end in hinges, which go through the brass diagonal pieces. Small brass pendants dangle from them. On the bottom are three larger rock-crystal pendants. The frame is attached to a horn comb.
The Victorians loved sterling silver combs. This one, with flowers surrounded by garlands, dates to 1880.
Victorian tortoiseshell hair pins with gold tops were a frequent part of a woman’s wardrobe. However, finding one with a circular top is rare.
In France, Napoleon’s first queen, Josephine, was a jewelry innovator. Her style of back comb, which can also be worn as a tiara, is called a Peigne Josephine. It has a brass comb upon which multi-galleried decorations are attached. Coral was a favorite jewel, as were seed pearls.
This Peigne Josephine has 5 galleries: a line of seed pearls, metal mounted with seed pearls, another row of seed pearls, metal in a leaf pattern, and on top spirals of seed pearls. The pearls are wound on very thin wire, so the condition and is remarkable.
This French comb has meticulously painted porcelain medallions of courtly scenes on metal with three tassels, hinged to a horn comb. The medallions are reminiscent of 18th Century French furniture.
This comb is an Art Deco extravaganza. It is a celluloid comb made at the comb factories in Oyonnax, c. 1920. A small geometric pattern builds to diamond-shaped purple rhinestones to flowers to purple and orange arches at the top. Unbelievably, this is unsigned.
This American Civil War Era garnet tiara has a four-petaled flower, shouldered by two leaves, and is attached to a tortoiseshell comb. The leaf-stems in the middle are comprised of larger garnets. There are two 3/4 circular pieces, which I believe attach to the tiara. One can see hinges at the bottom of the leaves and on each piece. Quite unique.
I had never seen Chinese embroidered flower carvings inside an owl before this ivory hair pin. It is beautifully carved in the Cantonese tradition. The owl even stares back at you. c. 1890, made for export.
For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:
The auction curators at Drouot had no idea who made these realistic plique-a-jour enamel locusts with diamond lines, set in gold, so they estimated their value at 6500 euros. In the description, Drouot wondered if the locusts were destined to adorn a hairstyle or ornament a corsage. Even though jewelry was made with different fittings in 1900, I think these are hair ornaments.
What stands out is the estimate, which highlights how much provenance is worth in the art world. Anyone could see these pieces were made by one of the master-jewelers of French Art Nouveau, and so bidders appropriately valued them at 141,000 euros.
Here is my guess as to who made them, and why they might have been unsigned.
Lucien Gaillard employed Japanese craftsmen in his workshop. One of them created the Blue Bird Comb, which sold for $218,500 on October 21, 2009. Gaillard didn’t make it, he just signed it.
The craftsman who did make it observed the arch of birds’ bodies as they dove in flight and made each bird a slightly different size. It was mastery of the Realism seen in Meiji kanazashi ornaments, not French Symbolism, which would elongate part of an object to make a philosophical point.
To me, these locusts look like those blue birds. They are exactly proportioned. The inlay and enamel work matches. I think they were made by the same Japanese craftsman in Gaillard’s workshop who made the Blue Bird comb. However, this time, Gaillard did not dare sign his employee’s work. The maker himself was not prominent enough to sign them, and so the author remains unknown.
For more scholarly research, please examine the books Christie’s uses, which have been added to our Resource Library. They are both by Alastair Duncan.
Art Nouveau’s main ingredients were the Symbolists, who believed that art should reflect the truth indirectly as if in a dream; the flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints; and Japanese organic forms and representations of nature.
Out came the curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau, which lasted only 20 years (1890-1910). In different countries, the movement had different names. Jugendstil in Germany, Stile Liberty in Italy, Arte Joven in Spain, and Modernisme in Catalonia.
The pioneer of Modernisme in Catalonia was Lluís Masriera.
In Geneva, he studied enamelwork with Frank-Édouard Lossier. On his second visit to Paris in 1900, he attended the Exposition Universelle and saw the jewels of Lalique. Lalique’s technical skills in plique-à-jour and basse-taille enameling, and the way his jewelry integrated engineering and design into a Symbolist idea, were an epiphany for Masriera.
Exposition Universelle de 1900, Paris. Les lampadaires du pont Alexandre-III et la rue des Nations.
Upon returning to Barcelona, he closed his shop, melted down all his stock, and started again. Opening a week before Christmas in 1901, the designs at Masriera Hermanos, 35 Carrer de Ferran, were ready. The shelves were empty within a week. Masriera became world famous.
He was even commissioned to make a tiara for Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain in 1906 as a wedding gift from the people of Catalonia.
It is called the tiara desaparecido, as no one knows where it is. The tiara was made of diamonds and pearls in a gold frame with multi-color plique-a-jour enamel. On the bottom are two fleurs-de-lys, symbolizing the House of Bourbon. Continuing the heraldic theme, a horse forcené is placed next to each fleur on the band. Between the band and the tiara’s top gallery is the flag of Catalonia.
Two Masriera hair comb masterpieces from 1902 are this blonde tortoiseshell, diamond, enamel and gold hair comb, with trees in cast and chased gold, set in an enamelled landscape,
and this comb at the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim, which also depicts a landscape scene. It is made of gold, tortoiseshell, diamonds, sapphires, and enamel.
Another comb from this period was shown at the Van Gogh Museum’s “Barcelona 1900” exhibit in Amsterdam, which ran from September 2007 to January 2008.
This pair of blonde tortoiseshell hair pins with sculpted gold and diamond decoration were attributed to Masriera, c. 1902. They sold for €1,500 in Barcelona, 2012.
Lluís Masriera made only two tiaras. In this one, c. 1901-1910, he used yellow gold and platinum, set with 513 old-cut diamond brilliants, which had an approximate total weight of 12,5 carats. The wings of the birds were decorated with plique-à-jour enamel and set with two important diamonds of approximately 1.20 carats each. The piece is in the possession of Aardewerk jewelers, with certificate of authenticity by Bagués-Masriera, and registered in the workshops book no 2 and under reference nr 1336.