39 René Lalique Pieces from One Collection Head to Auction
A patron collected them over four decades.
The Dec. 17 sale at Sotheby’s features 39 lots collected by Claude H. Sorbac, who died this year.
Lalique (1860-1945) got his start as an apprentice with goldsmith and jeweler Louis Aucoc in 1876, before studying at the Sydenham Art College of London. He went on to work as a designer for jewelry houses such as Vever, Cartier, and Boucheron.
In 1885, he became an independent designer, exhibiting works under his own name and exploring different materials. After doing that for 25 years, he left goldsmithing and jewelry behind to explore the art of glassmaking, which brought him worldwide acclaim.
Collector Sorbac, meanwhile, grew up in a family of art lovers surrounded by paintings and art objects from the likes of Renoir, Sisley, Degas, and Tiepolo.
See: Highlights of the Upcoming Lalique Jewelry Auction
After joining the 1st Moroccan Spahi Regiment during WWII and participating in the liberation of Paris, he returned home to France to start his career as an entrepreneur and, at the same time, started collecting antiques.
In the latter pursuit, he quickly took an interest in Art Nouveau and its primary players, and it wasn’t long before Lalique works became his main interest.
He devoted decades to this passion, travelling to flea markets and auctions to find the best, even buying pieces directly from Lalique’s heirs, and as such his collection traces the designer’s career and reflects his many inspirations and collaborations with other creatives.
It highlights the artist’s pioneering use of innovative materials like glass, aluminum, bronze, and copper, combined with fine materials like diamonds, gemstones, and gold.
Pieces from Sorbac’s collection have been featured in international exhibitions, at institutions such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kyoto National Museum, and the Kremlin in Moscow.
Now, they are appearing at auction for the first time.
See: More Jewels in the Dec. 17 Lalique Auction
The top lot of the sale is the ivory, horn, enamel, and diamond comb seen at the top of this article, purchased in 1976 from one of Lalique’s heirs.
Showcasing the influence new species of plants were having on turn-of-the century artists, it is one of three “Orchidée” combs he made in 1904, with Sotheby’s calling this one the “most grand” in terms of size, finesse, the “velvety” texture of the petals and the delicate plique-à-jour enamel work.
Another comb, dubbed “Hirondelles Amoureuses,” or “Loving Swallows,” circa 1905-1906, is the No. 2 sale lot.
The Japonisme-inspired piece was also purchased from one of Lalique’s descendants in 1979 and showcases the designer’s fondness for the swallow design, which symbolized the return of springtime, renewal, energy, and freedom.
Another highlight showcasing the influence of nature is a tiara adorned with glass pansies alternating with diamond-studded green enamel foliage designs.
Sotheby’s said a note from Sorbac helps explain why the piece is so special: “In the language of flowers, when a man gives pansies to a woman, he is thinking about her. A husband or lover who gave this headband to his sweetheart was therefore expressing a message of tenderness, affection, and faithfulness. The woman who proudly wore it was laying claim to the same feelings and associations.”
Showing Lalique’s connection to the art world is a pendant-necklace in gold and enamel depicting the profile of actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was one of his muses and patrons and who wore his designs on stage and in real life.
Meanwhile, a stunning collar embroidered in leather, decorated with enamel cockerels, and studded with glass mulberries designed for Bernhardt’s role in the play “Chantecler” is also in the auction. It has a cape buckle in the shape of two sparring Chanticleers, or roosters, and a cabochon citrine at the clasp.
To see all 39 lots in Friday’s sale, visit Sotheby’s.com.
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