When independent, jet-setting women of the 1960s and ‘70s wanted to sparkle a little brighter, they frequently turned to renowned French jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger. Best known for his work for Tiffany & Co., Schlumberger was a master at using the beauty of the natural world as inspiration for creating unique, brightly colored works of jeweled art that were both elegant and whimsical.
After premiering at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2017, Jewels of the Imagination: Radiant Masterworks by Jean Schlumberger from the Mellon Collection is making its first appearance outside Virginia at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
The exhibition highlights 135 spectacular pieces from the personal collection of philanthropist and art collector Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.
The glittering jewelry designs of Schlumberger were the epitome of mid-century elegance. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and such exotic locales as Bali, India and Thailand, Schlumberger’s lively, experimental designs graced the necks, wrists and lapels of style icons of the era like Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland, Elizabeth Taylor and of course, Bunny Mellon.
Mrs. Mellon’s love of gardening inspired many of Schlumberger’s botanical jewelry pieces, such as Flower Pot (Pot de fleurs), 1960, an ornate flowering plant emerging from a tiny terracotta pot, encrusted with emeralds and diamonds, with an amethyst flower bursting with gold petals. Another famous piece, Jellyfish, 1967, is a brooch that floats mysteriously on the wearer’s lapel, with a body of moonstones, and dynamic tentacles made of diamonds and sapphires appearing to move through flowing lines.
A special friendship between the artist and Mrs. Mellon inspired many of Schlumberger’s pieces. Her love of gardening, combined with his creative takes on color, movement and shape, resulted in whimsical creations that are unmistakably Schlumberger. More than 30 years after Schlumberger’s death in 1987, Tiffany & Co. still carries many of his designs.
Mrs. Mellon’s extensive collection of Schlumberger pieces is the largest, most comprehensive public collection of his work in the world. It was donated to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts between 1985 and 2015. Jewels of the Imagination will be on view at the MFA from Dec. 15, 2018 to March 31, 2019, giving visitors an opportunity to view everything from jewelry to cigarette cases to salt cellars.
Companion exhibition: Drawn to Beauty
A companion exhibition, Drawn to Beauty: The Art and Atelier of Jean Schlumberger, was created by curators at the MFA to explore Schlumberger’s process as an artist and designer, while offering insight into his relationships with the jet set. The exhibition, which features sketches, photographs, objets d’art and personal items belonging to the artist, also includes jewelry from the Tiffany & Co. archives and from private collections. The MFA has also created a catalog for Drawn to Beauty, which features a number of pieces that are being exhibited for the first time.
The two exhibitions will be on view in the Hazel Hough Galleries, which will be transformed into a space reflecting the natural elements from which Schlumberger drew his inspiration. Nationally regarded design firm WRJ Design, which is designing the exhibition space, has designed more than 40 exhibition spaces for Sotheby’s New York.
Images: Opening Image: Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907–1987), Flower Pot (Pot de fleurs), 1960, Amethyst, emeralds, diamonds, black garnet ore, terracotta, gold, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts;
Slider: Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907–1987), Jellyfish, 1967, Gold, platinum, moonstones, diamonds and sapphires, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907–1987), Sea Star, 1960, Gold, platinum, rubies, and diamonds, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907–1987), Bird on a Rock (Brooch), 1965, Gold, platinum, lapis lazuli, colored and white diamonds, ruby, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
JEAN SCHLUMBERGER: JEWELS OF THE IMAGINATION & DRAWN TO BEAUTY, UNTIL – MARCH 15, 2019
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, ST. PETERSBURG FL