Lucien Falize (1839-1897)
Gold and enamel
22.3 x 8.9 cm
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This work symbolizes the ideal held by the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs from the time of its creation in 1864. Its members, who had chosen “Beauty in Usefulness” as their motto, dedicated themselves to promoting the decorative arts through their well-stocked library and temporary exhibitions on materials (fabric, paper, wood, stone, glass and metal); they also held many competitions that were open to art school students and craftworkers. In 1895, the UCAD committee asked one of the most distinguished goldsmiths at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 to produce an enamel piece for the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, granting him total freedom of form and subject. The goldsmith decided to make a gold goblet from which the president of the association could drink on ceremonial occasions, as the masters of the guilds did in the past; this explains the two main ideas behind the decoration – the vine and the artistic crafts. Two thirds of the way up the goblet, an enamel frieze composed by the painter Luc Olivier Merson shows Renaissance artisans working with stone, wood, clay, metal, glass, fabric, paper and leather. Above and below the frieze, vine branches stand out on a red champlevé enamel ground. The goldsmith and his engraver are depicted in Renaissance costume under the goblet. The decoration on the lid evokes the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs with its emblem, an oak branch encircled by a laurel wreath, and plaques inscribed with the words art, science and métier, summarizing the Union’s syllabus. Falize’s virtuoso work demonstrates the most refined enamel techniques: champlevé, cloisonné (which he had used since 1869) and basse-taille, which fell from use in the late fifteenth century but which he rediscovered. To produce this extraordinary piece, he fired it over forty times, thereby accomplishing an outstanding technical feat. This goblet with its retrospective, narrative nature was intended as a tribute to his illustrious predecessors and to the collections assembled by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs; it was made during the later career of Falize, who earned recognition for some of his works as a precursor of Art Nouveau.
Katherine Purcell, Falize, a Dynasty of Jewelers, London, Thames & Hudson, 1999.