Fouquet

Fouquet (Est. 1860 – 1936) Through three generations, the House of Fouquet (Maison Fouquet) created and produced jewelry and other fine objects that many experts suggest was second only to Lalique. In addition, a replica of the most famous showroom in which Maison Fouquet conducted business was deemed a work of art in its own right. It was eventually re-created and donated to one of Paris’ most important museums where it can be seen today.
The founder of the firm was Alphonse Fouquet (1828-1911) who began his apprenticeship in 1839, at age eleven, to Parisian jeweler, Henri Meusnier. Alphonse’s mistreatment under Meusnier is well chronicled and related in Fouquet’s autobiography, parts of which were reprinted by Henri Vever in his book, “French Jewelry of the Nineteenth Century.”
The apprenticeship included physical abuse, fourteen to twenty long, hard work hours per day, low pay, and almost unbearable living conditions. Alphonse apprenticed with Meusnier for five years, then moved from one low-paying manufacturing job to another.
In 1847, Fouquet secured a position designing jewelry at M. Pinard’s firm which provided his big break. He was hired as a result of the promising sketches he submitted after learning there was no work to be had for craftsmen. The Pinard firm quickly realized that Fouquet was a naturally talented artist who quickly distinguished himself from his peers.
In 1860, after working for several more firms, Alphonse opened his own shop. It first produced exceptional archaeological revival jewelry. In the 1870s and 80s, Alphonse turned to producing items in the Renaissance revival style.
During this time he created some of the most stunning examples of revival jewelry. His fantastical designs featured sphinxes, dragons, mermaids, putti, and other mythological characters. Fine chasing, enameling, and diamonds embellished the pieces.
In 1878, when Alphonse exhibited his work at Paris’s Universal Exposition, he won a gold prize for pieces that were described as “absolutely flawless” by fellow jeweler, Falize. Alphonse’s later work prefigured Art Nouveau trends. In particular, he is credited with re-introducing the female form into jewelry.
In 1891, Alphonse’s son, Georges (1862-1957) joined his father’s business at 35 Avenue de L’Opera in Paris and, in 1895, assumed control of the business.
Vever called Georges, “… a tireless worker [who] was enthralled by all things new [and whose] search for fresh inspiration was relentless.” It is the work of Georges and his son, Jean that assured the Maison Fouquet its important place in the annals of jewelry history.
When Georges assumed control of the business, it was his inspiration in 1898 to re-define the firm’s designs into works that reflected the Art Nouveau style. It is these jewels that brought Maison Fouquet its greatest successes and lasting reputation.
The pieces created during George’s tenure were typically composed of gold and embellished with enamel, opals, horns, pearls, and, sometimes, finely-set diamonds. Naturalistic motifs predominated. Sensuously curvy lines, softly-colored enamels, and subtle textures were used to great effect.
Many well-known artists were on staff during this time including Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), Charles Desrosiers, Etienne Tourette, Eric Bagge, Andre Leveille and Lambert Rucki. Mucha’s pieces, especially, engendered praise for the firm.
According to art historian Vivienne Becker, Mucha’s jewels were, “strange objects, theatrical and unwearable, shoulder and breast pieces, head ornaments draped with chains, and fabulously enameled plaques that were Byzantine in flavor and entirely different from the usual examples of naturalistic Art Nouveau jewels.”
For three years, Georges worked in close collaboration with Mucha who served as a designer. Together, they executed many important commissions including designs for Sarah Bernhardt among others. They mainly created objects in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles and favored the use of enameling and colored stones.
Georges’ necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches were modern in design and of imposing proportions. He expressed the opinion that, “… [J]ewelry should be considered [as] works of art.”
He preferred white gold, with flat surfaces alternating with lacquered ones, and large stones, such as jade and aquamarine. He was a master at juxtaposing geometric elements and strong colors to achieve a balance that was harmonious and never static.
He also used rock crystal. One of his most striking creations is a bracelet and ring parure carved entirely from the material. Its subtle curves were given a matte finish and set with cabochon moonstones and faceted amethysts. Precipitating a stylistic trend. Georges’ creation may well have been the first time rock crystal was used as the entire body of a piece of jewelry. Many other designers, such as Suzanne Belperron, Rene Boivin, and Mouboussin also began to use it.
Fouquet won great acclaim at the 1900 Paris International Exhibition with jewels designed by Mucha. By then, Mucha had already achieved fame as a painter and creator of color advertising lithographs that promoted the performances of the great theatrical actress Sarah Bernhardt. It was for Bernhardt that Mucha created the Snake Bracelet she is seen wearing in Mucha’s poster for Médée.
Mucha’s jewelry designs for Fouquet were the beginning of a short, but very fruitful creative partnership that culminated in the 1900 opening of Fouquet’s new shop at 6 Rue Royale. Having successfully collaborated on jewelry pieces together, Fouquet asked Mucha to design the entire interior and exterior of the chic, new shop.
The Mucha design covered every inch of the shop from the façade to the showcases. An Art Nouveau theme ran throughout. A majestic peacock sculpture was spread out against stained glass windows and another one was perched close to the ceiling to overlook the shop. The relief of a woman greeted customers at the entrance, her arms and neck thrown back gracefully. The lighting, showcase tables and ceilings were all decorated in flowing lines, swirls and floral themes.
In 1989, the front and inside of the Mucha’s design for this Fouquet store were meticulously reassembled for display in a room at the Musée Carnavalet. On the ground, the mosaics are reconstituted identically according to Mucha’s original drawings.
Maison Fouquet donated the remnants of rue Royale shop in its entirety to the museum where it was reassembled as it was: a small room brimming with color, it is a completely preserved Belle Epoque work of art housed in one of the most interesting yet underrated museums in Paris.
One of Mucha’s and Fouquet’s stellar jewelry creations, a brooch, was also manufactured around 1900. This remarkable piece was created in gold, enamel, mother-of-pearl, opal, emerald, colored stones, and gold paint. It exemplifies the three-year partnership between Fouquet and Mucha and epitomizes the decorative luxuries of the Art Nouveau style.
At a time when the emphasis had been on precious stones in traditional settings usually derived from the Louis XVI period, Fouquet and Mucha together redefined fine jewelry design and promoted their belief that the beauty of a jewel depends on its artistic conception. Materials were chosen for their contribution to the overall design and not for their basic value.
Mucha’s conception for a spectacular series of elaborate jewels to be created by Fouquet formed the centerpiece of Fouquet’s display at the 1900 Paris Exposition.
Through the early part of the 20th Century and until the start of World War 1, Fouquet under Georges’ leadership continued to produce Art Nouveau jewels, many designed by or in collaboration with Charles Desrosiers who was previously a student of the Symbolist artist Eugene Grasset. The most exceptional of these included fine pendants and brooches that sometimes focused on natural baroque pearls or used them embedded in a floral pattern.
The Art Nouveau period was short lived and Georges’ wanted to make the transition to the emerging Art Deco style. In 1919, after the war ended, Georges’ son, Jean (1899- 1961) began to work for the firm. Jean’s studies had originally been in classical literature but his skill in design would soon become apparent as he and his father took Maison Fouquet in a new direction that adopted the Deco style that incorporated geometric and refined forms.
Georges also wanted to participate in the important 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, and intended the pieces he chose to exhibit to be daring and original. To this end, he worked with artists and designers of the period including the poster artist, Cassandre.
Jean was never directly involved in running the Maison. However, the designs he created for the 1925 show won an award. Between 1926 and 1928, Jean also exhibited his designs at the Salon des Artists Decorateurs.
Jean preferred the geometric approach and was among the school of designers who translated contemporary art into jewelry that built up designs from geometric shapes. Like his father, he also made use of lacquer and enamels to include in the pieces. Maison Fouquet went on to create some of the finest Art Deco jewelry of the period and in the history of jewelry. Fouquet pieces created between 1925 and 1931 were among the most audacious and innovative of the era.
Jean and Georges’ brilliance is that they fully adapted the new Art Deco style as fast as it approached. Around 1922, they transitioned beyond earlier innovative ideas of floral and figurative decoration to produce, brooches, bracelets, belt clasps, pins and pendants, with extremely stylized abstract motifs.
They replaced precious gemstones with stones that included onyx, jade and coral and that were chosen for their strong opaque colors. Also, they often combined texture and color with the translucency of topazes, aquamarines, crystal, and amethysts. The firm varied colors and textures with the use of enamel and lacquer, often drawing on other contemporary artists for fresh ideas.
Georges was one of the founding members of l’UAM (Union des Artists Moderne). In 1930, he exhibited jewelry that was even purer in design. Geometric shapes were still the major elements, but the lacquer was less of a presence and the forms were simplified and set with huge citrines or aquamarines.
The stock market crash of 1929 dealt a severe blow to Maison Fouquet. By the mid 1930’s Fouquet had fallen from favor and though they tried to modernize by replacing their store’s extraordinary Mucha interior with a more Deco-like design, the firm closed in 1936. Their genius led to the preservation of the Mucha interior that is on display at the Musee Carnavalet, Paris.
Jean continued to work on certain projects after the House closed, outsourcing to other jewelers and workshops. During the war years of 1939-1945, Fouquet did not display any work at exhibitions. After the war, Georges worked on commissions for private clients in his flat on the Rue des Cerisoles. During this period, he worked closely with the enameller Gaston Richet, who was a former pupil of Tourette.
In 1951, Jean joined, with a few like-minded artists, to organize the exhibition, Proofs at the Gallery of Bernheim Jeune. The name of the exhibition reflected the artists’ response to critics of their innovative work. In 1952, Jean Fouquet became a lecturer at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs. In 1958, he was stricken with a severe illness. Nevertheless, he participated in the Exposition Universelle in Brussels and produced a series of jewels for it.
Georges Fouquet continued to design jewelry after WWII using gold wire and enamel, but these creations paled in comparison to his earlier work. In 1960, he completely ceased making jewelry.
In 1961, the Victoria and Albert Museum opened an exhibition called, International Modern Jewelry 1890-1961. The work of both Georges and Jean Fouquet and claimed an important part of the exhibition. By this time, though, Jean Fouquet no longer able to work.
In 1989, the front and inside of the jewelry store Fouquet operated in its heyday were meticulously reassembled in a room of the Carnavalet Museum.
Not many master jewelers can boast of creating masterworks in two style periods. However, Maison Fouquet craftsmen achieved the seemingly impossible as they created sublime works of jewelry art in both the Art Nouveau and the Art Deco styles.
The primary Maker’s Marks for Fouquet are a Cap ‘A’ over ‘F’ with a filigree design between the letters. Cap ‘G’’ over ‘F’ also with a filigree design between the letters although that design is modified.
Also seen are ‘Gges Fouquet’ in Script and ‘G. Fouquet’ in a stylized font.

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