Exhibition: ‘Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde’ at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Exhibition dates: 27th October 2010 – 13th February 2011


Alexander Calder. 'Still life'


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Still life
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010



Anyone who reads this archive regularly will know of my love of exceptional jewellery. This posting satiates my desire!

The Calder pieces are just outstanding.



Calder possessed an uncanny ability to synthesise a variety of influences from the world around him to create often simple, always meaningful, and ultimately modern jewellery. In the early 20th century, many avant-garde artists began to collect African tribal art and to reference it in their paintings and sculptures. Likewise, Calder’s brooches, tiaras, and necklaces have more in common with the pectorals, collars, diadems, and neckpieces made by ancient cultures than traditional western European jewellery. For example, Calder repeatedly incorporated the spiral – a typical motif in late Bronze Age artefacts – into his jewellery, as well as his wire figures, drawings, paintings, and other decorative arts. The artist’s personal collections, which included objects from African, Oceanic, and Precolumbian cultures, substantiate his eclectic taste.

Calder’s exploration of jewellery in the 1930s also coincided with his burgeoning interest in Surrealism. As his largest and most dramatic ornaments are unwieldy to wear, Calder’s jewellery may be seen as a Surrealistic strategy to entrap the wearer into participating in an art performance or being metamorphosed by the object. Among those who wore his jewellery were sophisticated art aficionados and artists, such as Peggy Guggenheim, Mary Rockefeller, French actress Jeanne Moreau, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

His sculptural art, regardless of category, has less to do with solidity than with lightness, air, motion, and graceful formal relationships. Calder’s sense of economy, balance, and adaptability, so characteristic of the artist’s much larger and more familiar mobiles and stabiles, extends to his jewellery. While Calder’s more diminutive avant-garde creations converged closely with the aesthetics of the modern age, they remain unmistakably Calder.1


  1. Anon. “Metropolitan Museum of Art features Alexander Calder – Inventive Jewelry” on Art Knowledge News website Nd. [Online] Cited 11/01/2011 no longer available online

Many thankx to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs to see a larger version of the image.


Hector Guimard. 'Brooch' 1909


Hector Guimard (French, 1867-1942)
© 2010 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence


Jewelry by US artist Alexander Calder from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Jewellery by US artist Alexander Calder from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010


Salvador Dalí, 'Time's Eye' Nd


Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Time’s Eye
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010


Salvador Dalí. 'Ruby's lips' 1949


Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Ruby’s lips
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010



Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde explores the approach to the world of jewellery by leading artists of the main art movements in the first decades of the fertile 20th century. The exhibition gathers almost 350 works, chiefly jewels, that strike a dialogue with paintings, sculptures, photographs, fabrics and objets d’art, showing how jewellery made up the little universe of great artists.

Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde reveals the relations between jewellery and the work of art. This exhibition, the first on this subject to be held in our country, shows the less well-known side of Auguste Rodin, Hector Guimard, Josef Hoffmann, Josep Llimona, Serrurier-Bovy, Henri Van de Velde, Manolo Hugué, Paco Durrio, Pau Gargallo, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Charlotte Perriand, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, Juli González, Henri Laurens and many others.

Painters and sculptors, since earliest times, have transferred their artistic forms to the world of jewellery, but it was not until the end of the 20th century, under the powerful influence of Art Nouveau, that artists approached this discipline more openly: ‘Carrying out a large work’, according to Otto Wagner, ‘means expressing beauty without distinguishing between large and small’.

The merger of arts that was a feature of Modernisme and the subsequent elimination of borders between the arts reached a crescendo in the 1920s and 1930s and crystallised in the numerous interesting incursions into the world of jewellery by the painters, sculptors and architects of the historic avant-garde. In producing these small-format objects (‘micro-sculptures’ or ‘painted jewels’), artists channelled their artistic thinking from different perspectives.

The exhibition opens with a selection of items produced by jeweller artists, who very often also cultivated multiple skills and who incorporated into their creations the offerings of the artistic movements of the time.

The high point of the first section of the exhibition are the jewels by René Lalique, which were purchased at the time of their production by European museums, rich amateurs and collectors. This is the case of the pendant purchased by the director of the Hamburg Museum at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the jewels purchased by Calouste Gulbenkian and the unique pendant Antoni Amatller bought in Paris for his daughter Teresa. In a dialogue with these works are the ones with rich enamelling and varied ranges of colour made by the Barcelona jeweller Lluís Masriera, who played a key role in introducing the new style to Barcelona.

Making up the core of the exhibition are the jewels conceived by artists who were not jewellers, such as Hector Guimard, Paco Durrio, Manolo Hugué, Herich Heckel, Pau Gargallo, Juli González, Joaquim Gomis, Ramón Teixé, Anni Albers, Charlotte Perriand, Alexander Calder, Henri Laurens, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Salvador Dalí. This second section shows these artists’ production in relation to their usual work of painting, sculpture, photography and other creations, establishing parallels with the artistic disciplines they worked at and revealing the affinities and echoes between them.

The legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus, which were committed to integration between all the arts, can clearly be seen in the work of these artists, who opened the way to experimentation in the arts, questioning the very nature of jewellery, and who incorporated new materials into their production that were foreign to the tradition of precious metals. Examples of this are Ramon Teixé’s unusual creations in iron, glass, enamel and string and the jewellery by the sculptor Josep de Creeft made with bits of scrap metal from his motor car, not forgetting the jewellery by the architect and designer Charlotte Perriand or the ones produced by the photographer Joan Gomis in collaboration with Manuel Capdevila, which make use of shells and pebbles like real objets trouvées.

Alongside these hand-made items of jewellery that are often produced with non-precious materials, we are exhibiting the ones designed by Braque and Dalí and manufactured by professional jewellers using noble materials like rubies, sapphires or diamonds.

A third section of the exhibition explores the relationship between jewels and the body and shows a selection of clothes, mainly loaned by the Museo del Traje in Madrid, and photographs from the 1930s by Man Ray, Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huené and Horst P. Horst.

The works presented in this exhibition come from public institutions and museums all over the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Institut d’Art Modern (IVAM) in Valencia, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao and the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí in Figueres, who have generously made an exception in lending some of the most emblematic jewels in their collections, as well as from the MNAC itself and from numerous European and American private collections.”

Press release from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya website


Manuel Capdevila / Ramon Sarsanedas. 'Spain falled back' Broooch Nd


Manuel Capdevila / Ramon Sarsanedas
Spain falled back
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – MNAC


Alexander Calder. 'The jealous husband' c.1940


Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
The jealous husband
c. 1940
Brass wire
14″ x 16″
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010


Erich Heckel. 'Drei Badende' (Three bathers) 1912


Erich Heckel (German, 1883-1970)
Drei Badende (Three bathers)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg
© Erich Heckel, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010


Boucheron, Paris (design by Lucien Hirtz ). 'Corsage ornament' 1925


Boucheron, Paris (design by Lucien Hirtz)
Corsage ornament
© Boucheron, Paris



Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Palau Nacional
Parc de Montjuïc
08038 Barcelona

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat 10am – 7pm
Sunday and public holidays: 10am – 2.30pm

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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