Paul and Henri Vever: Swan and Lily Comb

After winning a second Grand Prize at Paris’s International Exposition in 1900, the Maison Vever invited guest designers. The most famous was Eugène Samuel Grasset (1841–1917). He designed the “Swan and Lily Comb.” Paul (1851 – 1915) and Henri (1854 – 1942) Vever made it, c.1900.


Maison Vever, 1871, Rue de la Paix à Paris. Source: gallica.bnf.fr

On top of an ivory comb, a black swan and a white swan eat from a water lily. Their necks form a heart — eternal love. Swans were popular Art Nouveau motifs because their winding necks expressed Symbolist philosophy’s elongated style perfectly.

In this comb, the lake is made from painted enamel, showing the water’s subtle color blend from aqua-green to dark blue. A leaf in the water can be seen on the bottom left.

On the comb’s top frame are three leaves made of plique-a-jour enamel divided by gold veins. The leaves’ color variations correspond to those in the water. Notice the dark blue at the top of the center leaf and the dark blue at the bottom-center of the water.

To make the top frame into a semi-circle, there are two groups of water-lily buds in between the leaves. Dripped-gold frames the bottom Grasset’s design. The comb resides at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.

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For more scholarly research, please see our Resource Library and these books.


Art Nouveau Jewelry

Henri Vever: French Jewelry of the Nineteenth Century

Art Nouveau Jewelry (Christie’s Collectibles)
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Turtles, Mystery, and Love

Turtles

A bomb fell on his house: the terror that annihilates all you love in an instant. Fight or flight? The surviving father grabbed his infant son and fled into the forest. No war. No bombs. Instead, the order of the wild. Perhaps there, his mind would regain order, too, and his son would be safe.

And so it happened that both of them stayed there for 40 years.

They built a house, wore loincloth, ate well, and made simple tools. With scavenged shrapnel from a bomb like the one that destroyed his house, the father made a comb. What is extraordinary about it, is with only the memory of society and a future of complete isolation, the right side was carved into the head of a turtle.

The turtle plays a part in many Vietnamese legends. In one of them, a Vietnamese king offered a sacred turtle to Emperor Yao of China (2356-2255 BC). On its shell was written the history of the Earth and Sky since they were born. Emperor Yao had it copied and called it the Turtle Calendar.

This father made a comb out of war.

Mystery

This unsigned cameo-glass French Art Nouveau hair comb is being auctioned on E-Bay.

I believe it is French, c. 1900, as the dealer says. English cameo glass is more well defined.

I like that the background was created to look like the brush strokes of an Impressionist painter. The painting behind the lady-slipper orchid depicts trees in a twilight sky, reflected in water. The “brush strokes” become larger when the artist “paints” the reflection.

But the orchid in the center is flat idea.

It doesn’t integrate with the background plot. Also it is a glass plaque simply hinged to a silver backing, nailed onto a horn comb. The hinges, or engineering, don’t play a part in the story. They are purely functional.

It’s not Lalique.

As you can see in his Raptor comb, the birds’ gold talons serve as hinges to the sapphires. Lalique combines engineering and Symbolism. (The comb sold for 92,000 euros on July 14, 2013, at the Brissonneau Auction House in Paris.)

Lalique’s famous Landscape Comb at the Gulbenkian was made of enameled glass encased in horn. The painting is the point of the comb, not the background.

Third, Lalique carved his orchids. I did not know where this comb resided, but the unmatchable Jen Cruse did. She commented, “Lalique’s orchid comb is in the Anderson collection at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. I have seen it and its wonderful! It measures approx.19cm (7 1/2 inches) in height. The description reads: ‘Orchid haircomb of gold, glass, horn and enamel; c.1902. The erotic overtones of the orchid made it a favourite motif of the Art Nouveau artists. The petals are formed of yellow and brown enamels with the name ‘Lalique’ stamped on one of them. The centre of this exotic flower is formed in cut glass with a cut diamond of trapezium shape.’ From Lalique: Jewellery and Glassware by Tony L Mortimer. Octopus Books Ltd 1989. ISBN 1 871307 64 3″

Gallé and Daum made lamps, furniture, and vases out of cameo glass, not jewelry in 1900. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Also, all three artists always signed their work. This comb is unsigned.

So I’m going to take a guess. This might be an “after hours” comb made by an artisan in the Daum or Gallé workshops, who took a piece of leftover glass, and created a comb for the woman he loved. It is very well worn, as there are many scratch marks on the back of the glass. She wore it. She loved him, and he made her beautiful.

Love

Alexander Calder made hair combs for his wife. She put them on the windowsill behind a houseplant. I can picture the room being a kitchen, where she could look at them and smile while making his favorite dish. Genius does not always have to be formally recognized. It can be personally recognized, loved intimately while looking at the hills outside your window.

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:


Art of Vietnam (Temporis Collection)

Nature Transformed: French Art Nouveau Horn Jewelry

Calder Jewelry
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Jen Cruse: Mauchline Ware and Combs – Scottish Souvenirs of the 19th Century

Mauchline Ware is a distinctive form of Scottish decorative treen, said to have originated in the Ayrshire (now Strathclyde) town of Mauchline in the late 18th or early 19th century.

The wooden articles, generally known as Mauchline Ware, were made of Scottish planewood or sycamore (sometimes black lacquered) and were wide ranging in both design and purpose. The front surface was decorated with a painted or small transfer-printed view, portrait or building, and varnished over.

These objects were a popular form of tourist souvenir in the 19th century, and the images depicted covered the whole of the British Isles. Many small items and a large variety of boxes may be found with the characteristic vignettes, the commonest being tea caddies, snuff boxes and pill boxes, trinket boxes, stamp boxes, rouge boxes, needle cases and étuis.

In the early days, the pictures applied to the treen surfaces were either hand-painted or pen-worked. Around 1850, the application of transfer-printing was devised. By about 1860 photographic images became the preferred technique, thus producing more affordable pieces at a faster rate.

Through the 1800s, Mauchline Ware was made in such towns as Mauchline, Cumnock and Lanark and also in Laurencekirk, in the north of Scotland. By the second half of the 19th century, W&A Smith of Mauchline was one of the first companies to exploit the growing tourist industry by making, for export, souvenirs that related to cities, resorts and spa towns in Europe, North America and South Africa.

Although most types of Mauchline Ware are well documented, there is sparse mention of cased combs and an absence of references in the literature of the Mauchline Ware Collectors Club. The three cases illustrated here measure just over 4 ins (10.5 cm) in length and not quite 1 ins (2.2 cm) in width. The combs, original to each case, are made of ebonite (vulcanite or hard rubber).

The image on one of the cases is that of Old Tip Top house, Mt. Washington, N.H. – a known design. This house was built near the summit in 1853 but was eventually replaced by the New Tip Top House sometime in the 20th century.

Another case shows the quay at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. The image on the black lacquered case is that of Southwell Cathedral in Nottinghamshire, England.

Very few Mauchline Ware pieces were marked with makers’ names. It is likely, however, that the Mt. Washington example illustrated was made by the Smith factory in Mauchline and dates between 1885 and 1895, the peak period for the growth of tourism in New England.

At that time the Boston based distributor of Mauchline Ware was Charles Pollock, described as an “Importer of White Wood Fancy Goods,” no doubt the agent for W&A Smith. An entry in the Company’s ledger, dated 1888, lists combs among the Mauchline Ware products although specific details are not known. This particular item was bought at a small antiques market in London in 1999 for £20 (about $35) and is in excellent condition. Unfortunately the original retail price is unknown.

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:


Mauchline Ware – A Collector’s Guide

The Comb: Its History and Development

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Lalique Tiaras: From God to a Rooster’s Breakfast

The setting of gems is profound meditation. How can a tiara or crown give its wearer the verisimilitude of God on Earth? Rene Lalique couldn’t care less. He transformed the appearance of jewelry with new themes.

Combining French Symbolist philosophy with ideas from Japanese art, he incorporated gem setting into raptors’ claws in this comb, made of horn, enamel, and sapphires. It sold for 92,500 euros on 6/14/2013 at Brissonneau Auction House, Paris;

rain, in the moonstone drops falling from blonde tortoiseshell buds in his famous Moonstone Tiara;

and tree-branch garlands. This tiara has leaves of green enamel with small diamond flowers, which are decorated with a mabe pearl garland. It sold at Christie’s for $112,561 on 6/17/2008.

However, being a keen ethologist, two of his pieces stand out as exemplary expressions of animal behavior.

“Head with Rooster Headdress” resides at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. It is made from silver, enamel, and alabaster, and minutely details the intricacy of rooster feathers. What makes this piece special to me is the ruby set in the rooster’s mouth. In real life, roosters eat red currants.

In Lalique’s dragonfly tiara, his golden insects have plique-a-jour enamel wings, but they are also behaving. When dragonflies fly at night, migrating or not, they fly toward the light. Lalique symbolized a light in the dark with an aquamarine.

Art Nouveau jewelry was not only art, engineering, Japonisme, and Symbolism. The gems set in tiaras, diadems, and combs went from symbolizing a wearer’s godlike status to accurately representing a rooster’s breakfast.

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For more scholarly research please examine our Resource Library and these books:


The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912
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Jen Cruse: The Swastika Motif

The comb in the photograph, a celluloid low back comb (simulating tortoiseshell), was bought in an Antique shop in Quebec City in 1995 for C$50 (£30). The decorative band along the heading, fixed to the comb by three rivets, comprises two clockwise pointing swastikas set with clear paste-stones, placed between three flower and leaf motifs of gilded metal, possibly aluminium.

The Swastika, a cross in which the arms or bars (sometimes referred to as crampons) are extended at right angles, is a sacred symbol derived from Sanskrit, the language of the Aryan (Hindu) civilisations of ancient India, dating back at least 8,000 years. The motif is now regarded by many cultures around the world as a good luck symbol and an implied prayer for success and accomplishment. The four arms may either point to the left or to the right, the latter being the more familiar and in this form may have been based on a sun symbol representing the clockwise movement of the sun.

The motif (with clockwise arms) was adopted by Hitler as an emblem of the Nazi Party, and incorporated into the German national flag from 1935 to 1945. Consequently it became a symbol of oppression in the countries occupied by Germany during the Second World War and was often called the “crooked cross”.

Occasionally combs are encountered that carry the swastika symbol as part of the decoration. The connection between this comb and the wearer is uncertain; it may allude to a Nazi supporter or a patriotic emigrant, or on the contrary, to one who has escaped the Nazi tyranny. The comb in this case is most probably American made, sometime during the first quarter 20th century, with the decoration added at a later date. Could it have been a commemorative piece?

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and


The Comb: Its History and Development
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Jewish Burial Combs

“Ritual purification before God” defines Jewish burial. The liturgy and ceremony to prepare the body is called taharah, from the Hebrew verb taher, “be pure.” The Torah first mentions it in Genesis 35:2 – “Then Jacob said… Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.”


Photo: Jewish Museum of Prague.

Strict adherence to taharah is performed by burial societies called chevra kadisha. It is considered to be a great honor to do this and the last kindness, for you can never be thanked.


Photo: Jewish Museum of Prague.

The purification ritual has three parts: Washing the person, Showering the person, and Dressing the person. The comb plays an important role in the first and last parts.

The initial washing removes all artificial adornment. As this is done, fingernails are cut and the hair is combed. This explains why fingernail instruments are attached to the burial combs seen in the Jewish Museum of Prague.


Photo: Jewish Museum of Prague.

This rare brass comb with the Lion of Judah comes from The Creative Museum. Its inscription says, “A day of darkness, a day of mayhem comes upon us.”

However, in other parts of the world, the burial comb can have hand-engraved floral ornaments, as in this Moroccan Jewish comb from the Kajetan Fiedorowicz collection

and this silver burial comb from the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Once the body is purified, the person is put in the coffin and dressed in tachrichim, white-cotton-shroud garments that symbolize the costume of Kohen Gadol, or High Priests during Israel’s First and Second Temple periods. The comb is used once again to set and dress the hair.

This piece is from the Michael Steinhart Judaica Collection. Breslau, 1868. Inscription: This is a gift of the treasured woman, madam Haya, daughter of the leader Tzvi, for use by the Hevra Kadisha.

When the person is dressed, the casket is closed.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote, “Human death, however… terminates a personality which was driven by vision and hope, which despaired, rejoiced and grieved, which lived not only in the present moment but in both retrospection and anticipation. In a word, death destroys a world.”

מסרק

For more scholarly research, please examine


Tachrichim Jewish Burial Shrouds

Kitzur Dinei Taharah

Jewish Museums of the World: Masterpieces of Judaica
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The Creative Museum in Exhibition: Le Japon Amoureux

The Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy, France, resides in a 19th Century residence and contains collections, which were gathered by Christian missionaries from both continents.

The Creative Museum was one of the representatives invited to share their private collection for the real-life exhibition, “Le Japon Amoureux,” whose opening was quite the event.

Idealistically, Edo Japan’s concept of love was fleeting beauty in a “Floating World,” called Ukiyo. One could escape life’s banalities and experience love as the ultimate art form.

In real life, Ukiyo developed in Yoshiwara, the red-light district of Edo, as Japanese merchants became wealthy and thrived under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The artistic skill, ornamentation, and innovation of geishas, courtesans, and kabuki actors made the Floating World a mesmerizing draw for audiences and patrons.

Documentation started with Ukiyo-e, woodblock prints, which were invented during the Edo period (1600-1827). They portrayed love stories, such as the Tale of Genji, which explores different types of affection, friendship, loyalty and family. Ukiyo-e also advertised plays and tea houses.

In kabuki theatre, men played all the roles. To play a woman, the male actor adopted an attitude, which transformed him and was called kata. When taking a hairpin out of the hair, locks were suddenly released, symbolizing the overflow of passion.

Wigs were made from human hair, using a rigid frame to create complex knots, which signified the wearer’s status. For example, a large number of ornaments in a complex hair style showed that a woman had numerous admirers. This wig uses The Creative Museum’s blonde tortoiseshell set with a Kikyô flower family crest, as well as other tortoiseshell kanzashi.

Here are some more of The Creative Museum’s Japanese pieces on display:

The viewer can see this ivory kushi and kogai set with a Japanese landscape that looks like Mt. Fuji;

this silver kogai stick with floral embellishments, coral beads, and a curved ornament that hides the link attaching the hair;

and this superb engraved-ivory tama kanzashi with a netsuke rabbit.

In the Floating World, love was only an illusion, ill-treating human beings until death. To hear The Creative Museum’s many more insightful observations, one must see the entire multimedia presentation.

They conquered the real museum world again. Time to uncork the champagne!

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and the publications and exhibitions of The Creative Museum

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Scythian Burial Mound: Чурт доллу барз, Churt Barzu Dolly

Dotting the fields of modern-day Chechnya are Bronze Age burial mounds created by the “classical Scythians,” known to the Greeks as a militaristic, pastoral Iranic people who lived by the Northern Black Sea.


First Century BC map of the land between the Black and Caspian Seas.

In 612 BC, the Scythians conquered the Assyrian capital of Niniveh and moved East. Along the way they made funerary mounds, six of which were excavated near the village of Gojty in modern-day Chechnya.


Modern map of the land between the Black and Caspian Seas.

The most interesting mound, or kurgan, is the Чурт доллу барз, or Churt Barzu Dolly.

The tomb contained soldiers dressed in full armor, with weapons, and murdered female slaves. However, there was also a unique find.

A bone comb.

On top was a winged deer, kneeling, listening, and ready to jump to its feet.

In the National Museum, New Delhi, there is a stone palette, which shows a winged Indo-Scythian horseman riding a winged deer, and being attacked by a lion. Indo-Scythian art combines Greek and Iranian influences, and the winged deer appears in both mythologies. The Greeks saw her as Artemis.

Did an Indo-Scythian carver put the virginal huntress on the bone comb to protect the young girls, relieve them of disease, and hunt with the soldiers’ bows and arrows?

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Scythian Gold

Authentic Ancient Scythian Silver Greek Drachm Wise Men Coin of King Azes II – 35 BC Jesus Time
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Jen Cruse: The Butterfly Motif

The butterfly, the short-lived ethereal beauty of gardens and countryside, has been a favourite motif adorning hair jewellery for at least the past 250 years and particularly popular through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its delicate form is found on combs and hairpins from many countries around the world, and even featured on the celebrated comb attributed to one of the passengers on the fated Titanic before it sank in 1912. In Christian art, the butterfly symbolises the resurrected human soul. One Oriental source describes it as a sign of conjugal felicity – the Chinese Cupid – while another describes the butterfly, coupled with the chrysanthemum, as portraying beauty in old age. For the Maori peoples it represented the soul; for the Greeks, immortality; yet for the Japanese it indicated a vain woman or a fickle lover. Always popular in England, butterflies were a favourite in the 1870s during the vogue for insect motifs in jewellery and later favoured by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco artists and designers.

Here are a few examples:


Butterfly cased comb in celluloid. British or French, c. 1920s – 1930s.


Butterfly on translucent horn, China, mid-20th century.


Cut steel butterfly with horn tines. English, mid to late 19th Century.


Polished bone butterfly hairpin. Bali, 1950s to 1980s.


Celluloid butterfly comb and two hairpins. USA, c.1910-1920s.


Buffalo horn with inlaid mother-of-pearl butterfly. Indonesia, mid to late 20th Century.

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and


The Comb: Its History and Development
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Lalique’s Berenice Tiara

Although a revelation to some, Lalique designed tiaras for actresses other than Sarah Bernhardt. One of his most eloquent pieces was made for Julia Bartet, who starred in Jean Racine’s Bérénice at the Comédie-Française in 1893.

The perfect material for theatre props, Lalique used an aluminum frame, which was shaped into lotus flowers and openwork palmettes. Figures of the Greco-Roman goddess Isis punctuated five ivory cameos, depicting scenes from Bérénice’s life.

Jean Racine (1639-1699) wrote tragedies in which men fall from prosperity to disaster. But being a Jansenist Christian, his sense of fatalism and divine grace departed from Greek tragedy, where merciless Gods lead men to unforeseen doom. Instead, Racine’s tragic vision was the product of unrequited love.

In Bérénice, Racine wrote about the all-consuming love between her and Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian. When Vespasian died, it was thought Titus would finally be free to marry his true love. However the Roman population would not accept a “foreign” queen. In 79 AD, when Titus became Emperor, he caved into Roman political pressure and chose his duty over her. Although he begged her to stay, she ran away, and he continued as Emperor.


Photograph of Julia Bartet in the Role of Bérénice with Lalique’s tiara at the Musée Lambinet, Versailles.

The real Bérénice was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, the Jewish client-king of Roman Judea, and the man who built the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Herod’s entire family were Roman citizens. During the First Roman-Jewish War, in 70 AD, Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed Herod’s temple — while involved in a passionate love affair with his daughter. This is the reason Titus had to choose between Rome and Bérénice.


Soldiers taking away the spoils of the Second Temple, carved on the Arch of Titus

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For further scholarly research please examine our resource library and these books:


Bérénice (French Edition)

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

The Jewish War, by Josephus

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