A UNIQUE ART NOUVEAU GOLD, RUBY, GARNET, WATERMELON TOURMALINE, OPAL AND ENAMEL ‘GLYCINES’ CHOKER BY PHILIPPE WOLFERS. BRUSSELS, 1901-1902.
SOLD : ACQUIRED BY THE VIRGINIA MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, USA
This remarkable piece of Belgian heritage is one of the most impressive pieces of jewelry ever designed by Philippe Wolfers. It is composed of five alternating wisteria set with carved watermelon tourmaline and carved opal, between purple and green plique-à-jour enamel leaf clusters, within a scrolling garnet and ruby frame of a familiar Art Nouveau whiplash design.
The exceptional quality of this piece lies mainly in its artistic quality. Philippe Wolfers loved the use of carved gemstones in his creations. Here in particular he uses carved watermelon tourmalines which display green and pink colors all within the same crystal (hence the name ‘watermelon’). He also uses carved opals, one of Wolfers favorite stones, for their delicate play of color and semi-transparency. The green and purple plique-à-jour enamel leaves, that delicate and translucent style of enameling Art Nouveau jewelers made famous, are in perfect harmony with the pastel colors of the wisteria.
While depicting similar themes as his Art Nouveau colleague-jewelers, Wolfers appeared to be following his own muse. Wolfers’ style is often more stylized and more symmetrical compared to the work of his contemporaries and the use of gemstones took a very important role in his creations.
The reverse surface of the necklace bears the monogram PW for Philippe Wolfers and mentions ‘Ex:unique’ which means that the work is a unique piece (Exemplaire unique). These unique pieces were marked “Ex:unique” to distinguish them from jewelry made by his family’s firm Wolfers Frères. Each unique piece was written down in a register, the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’, a very valuable register which originally served for Philippe Wolfers personal use. The ‘Glucines’ necklace is number 126 of the ‘Catalogue des Exemplaires Uniques’. The piece was designed between 28/8/1900 and 19/07/1901 and executed before 18/01/1902. It is numbers 108 and 111 of the workshop archive.
It is thanks to these unique jewelry creations, that Philippe Wolfers is considered as one of the finest independent craftsmen designing jewelry in the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century. Of the approximately 130 unique pieces of jewelry Philippe Wolfers designed under his own name (1897-1907), very few pieces of jewelry are still around. The elaborate pieces often served to promote much more affordable pieces of jewelry made by the Wolfers Frères company, of which Philippe Wolfers was artistic director. It was often the case that, after being shown at various exhibitions all over Europe, these ‘unique’ pieces were taken apart, which explains why they are rare today.
DIMENSIONS: 35/38 cm x 6,3 cm.
Sophie Willstädter, wife of Philippe Wolfers, became the owner of this ‘Glycines’ necklace. The Wolfers archives mention her name as the ‘buyer’ on several pieces designed by her husband, such as the ‘Libellules’ Ring and the ‘Cygne et Serpents’ pendant.
The ‘Glycines’ choker later appeared in the collection of the Wittamer – De Camps family, who owned a reknowned ‘haute-couture’ business on the Avenue Louise in Brussels (1933-1976). They had an extensive art collection and a passionate relationship with Art Nouveau which led to the meticulous restoration of the House Solvay, built by Victor Horta, which housed their atelier. They were important collectors and promotors of artistic jewelry and probably the first to start collecting Art Nouveau jewelry in Belgium.
As Belgian dealers specialized in Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry, we were thrilled to have discovered this Belgian masterpiece in perfect condition. It was kept in a vault for many decades by the Wittamer family, only taken out for special exhibitions. Now we are delighted that the piece has found a new home in America, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It is truly one of the most amazing pieces of Art Nouveau jewelry we have had in our entire career. It is comforting to know that this piece, originally made to be worn, will again be treasured and preserved in a museum showcase for future generations to admire.
‘Pour l’Art’. Catalogue de la Xme Exposition, Bruxelles, s.l. (Musée de l’Art Ancien), 18 janvier -17 février 1902, n°17.
Exposition d’oeuvres de Philippe Wolfers, Exemplaires uniques exécutés de 1898 – 1903, Anvers, Salle Verlat, 18 février 1903 – 1 mars 1903, n°126.
Salon Triennal des Beaux-Arts 1903. Catalogue. Bruxelles, Hall du Cinquantenaire, 5 septembre 1903 – 2 novembre 1903, p.166, n°1792 .
Le Bijou 1900, Bruxelles, Hôtel Solvay, mai 1965, p.80, cat. nr. 96, pl. XVII.
Les feux de l’Art Nouveau, Hokaido Hakodate Museum of Art, p.173, nr. 165.
De Dynastie Wolfers. Meesters in zilver, Design Museum Gent, 2006-2007, p.19.
A., Chronique artistique. Exposition d’oeuvres de M et Mme De Rudder et de M. P. Wolfers, à la Salle Verlat, in the Journal La Métropole, 22/02/1903.
SERRURE, P., Philippe Wolfers: Joailier, Bijoutier, Orfèvre, Emailleur, Lapidaire, Sculpteur 1933, in Le Bijou (suite), 1e année, n°2, 1933 (2), p. 20 & 23.
WOLFERS, M., Philippe Wolfers, Précuseur de l’Art Nouveau (Coll: Monographies de l’Art Belge), Bruxelles, Edition Meddens S.A. pour le ministère de l’education Nationale et de la Culture 1965, p. 20, pl.16.
HUGHES, GR., Modern Jewelry, Londen, 1963, pl. 117.
ADRIAENSENS, W. & STEEL, R., De Wolfers Dynastie. Van Art Nouveau tot Art Deco, Pandora Uitgeverij, Antwerpen, 2006, p.125,132-133, 290, 367.