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Sex & Stones & Gilded Bones

Sex & Stones & Gilded Bones

30 November 2015

The driving force behind Rago Arts and Auction Center’s Fine Jewelry Department can be summed up in a single word: passion.

For Sarah Churgin, Director of the Jewelry Department, and Katherine Van Dell, Jewelry Specialist, selecting and curating pieces for Rago’s Fine Jewelry Auctions is about more than recognizing the value and marketability of a piece; it’s about the emotional and visceral reaction a piece invokes.

“When we see great pieces, we cry,” Sarah confesses.

This is not to say that value and marketability are ignored during the selection process. With decades of combined auction experience, Sarah and Katherine are keenly aware of a piece’s salability. But while the monetary value of a piece may drive the final curating decision, it is the artistic value that ignites the flame.

Sarah and Katherine’s shared passion for uncommon beauty is clear to see among the many pieces of fine jewelry on offer at Rago’s December Fine Jewelry Auction; nowhere more so than in the stunning selection of Art Nouveau jewelry they have curated for the sale.

Art Nouveau design, which was popular from 1890 – 1910, was a reaction to the ‘stiffness’ of the academic art of the 19th century. Art Nouveau looked away from the strict conformity of European traditions and instead toward the artistic traditions of Japan and the natural world for inspiration. As a result, Art Nouveau is more organic in its form than previous styles, and considerably more sensual.

Take, for example, this gold cane handle by artist Rene Lalique (Lot 1013).Here we see a nude female form in a recumbent and highly sexualized pose. While the raw sensuality of the piece is fairly typical of Art Nouveau jewelry, the implication of male-dominance is not. In fact, much of the work of Art Nouveau jewelers celebrated female sexuality and the female form, not as a source of male pleasure, but personal power.The glorification of ‘female empowerment’ is unmistakable in this pendant (Lot 1040) from the early 1900’s. The sitter’s low neck-line and exposed shoulder is easily read as sexually suggestive, but not submissive. Her handsome profile, rendered in yellow gold against a plique-a-jour foliate background, is imposing. Her gaze, cast up and away from the viewer, is imperious.

This cow horn and diamond hair comb, also by Rene Lalique, showcases the softer side of Art Nouveau. In this piece we see the same sinuous lines and reverence for nature that defines much of Art Nouveau design, expressed in a more delicate manner.

The Art Nouveau movement was a period motivated by social change, sexual liberation and anti-traditionalism. It was a celebration of the beauty of nature and the elegance of the female form. It was, above all else, a period of artistic creation inspired by, defined by, and fueled by passion. Little wonder, then, that as strong women with a weakness for beauty, Sarah and Katherine are passionate about Art Nouveau and the museum quality examples of Art Nouveau jewelry in their auction.