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Exhibition explores transformative power of jewelry design

Now through June 18, 2017, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the masterful jewelry design of Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987).

RICHMOND, Va. – Finding inspiration for his work in nature, the French-born designer Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987) created jewelry and accessories that transformed 20th-century fashion.

The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, an exclusive new exhibition on view at VMFA from February 10 to June 18, 2017, will showcase a broad representation of jewelry design and decorative objects from this innovative designer. Admission is free.

Artist-jeweler Jean Schlumberger (zhahn SCHLUM-ber-zhay) transformed 20th-century fashion with his creative jewelry design of highly sculptural, vibrant and whimsical character.

Evolution of a Master of Jewelry Design

Butterflies bracelet, Jean Schlumberger

Butterflies (Bracelet), 1956, Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907-1987, Designer), Tiffany and Company (American, founded 1837, Manufacturer), 18 karat gold, platinum, amethyst, sapphires, turquoise, peridots, yellow diamonds, diamonds, colored stones, 1 1/2 × 7 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon (Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

Born in Mulhouse, France, in 1907, Schlumberger demonstrated an early talent for drawing, but received no formal training as an artist or jeweler. After stints in banking and art reproduction, he created his first brooches from porcelain flowers found at Paris flea markets, which caught the eye of surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.

Schlumberger made his way to New York in 1940, briefly opening a small jewelry store there with childhood friend Nicolas Bongard, trained in jewelry design. Around 1942, he returned to Europe to help the Allied war effort. Following World War II, he and Bongard opened a shop in a townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side, where Schlumberger first met Mrs. Mellon in 1954.

In 1956, Schlumberger joined Tiffany & Co. as a signature designer, and he and Bongard were appointed vice presidents of an independent department within Tiffany’s signature Fifth Avenue store. Schlumberger enjoyed total creative control over his designs, with Tiffany & Co. also permitting him to maintain an independent shop in Paris while creating exclusive works for their Manhattan flagship store. His reputation for jewelry design quickly grew among Hollywood stars, fashion experts, and other influential style icons from both sides of the Atlantic—many of whom counted among his closest friends. His clients included Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (later the Duchess of Kent), Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, Gloria Guinness, Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, and Mrs. Mellon.

Accolades and Innovation

In 1958, Schlumberger became the first jewelry designer to receive the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award, and in 1977, the French government made him a Chevalier of the National Order of Merit. In 1986, one year before his death, Tiffany & Co. mounted a retrospective exhibition of jewelry design to honor his 30th anniversary with the firm.

With 142 pieces, the exhibition celebrates the generosity of Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon (1910-2014), a noted horticulturalist, philanthropist, and longtime VMFA supporter. With Mrs. Mellon’s extraordinary gift, given in 2014, VMFA now preserves the largest and most comprehensive public collection of jewelry and art objects by Schlumberger.

“This unparalleled collection of Jean Schlumberger’s iconic jewelry, accessories, and other

Flower pot, Jean Schlumberger

Flower Pot, 1960, Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907-1987), amethyst, emeralds, diamonds, black garnet ore, terracotta, 18-, 20-, 22-karat gold, 7 1/4 × 4 × 4 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

decorative objects was given to VMFA by Rachel Lambert Mellon, one of the most generous donors in our history,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director. “These extraordinary works – with their vibrant colors, exquisite craftsmanship, and natural inspirations – showcase Schlumberger’s dazzling imagination and clarity of vision.”

The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger features many works on public display for the first time. “The works of art that debut here collectively reveal the dedication to perfection and beauty that united the artist and his great friend and patron,” Merling said.

More About VMFA

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States. VMFA’s permanent holdings encompass more than 35,000 artworks, including the largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia, the finest collection of Art Nouveau outside of Paris, and one of the nation’s finest collections of American art.

VMFA is also home to important collections of English silver and Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, British sporting, and modern and contemporary art, as well as renowned South Asian, Himalayan, and African art. In May 2010, VMFA opened its doors to the public after an extensive expansion, the largest in its 80-year history. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the only art museum in the United States open 365 days a year with free general admission.

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