All text, concepts and images ©2009 - 2021 Debra Healy
unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Niki De Saint Phalle:Art Provocateur

Niki de Saint Phalle 1930–2002 is a major retrospective of Franco-American artist
     Grand Palais Paris September 17, February 2, 2015 
Niki de Saint Phalle, cover French Vogue, 1952

Niki De Saint Phalle was born in 1930 to a patrician American mother and a French aristocratic father. She was raised in two cultures and two languages. She was a fashion model, she married young,  had children, and then she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.  While in the mental hospital she started painting. 

Self Portrait, 1958, plaster and mixed media on wood
141 X 141 x10 cm
Through art she found her “voice”. She said, " I was lucky enough to find art because on a mental level I had the makings of a terrorist." In fact she had great sensitivity and an extraordinary eye.  After a lifetime of travel with frequent museum visits, she evolved the techniques she needed in order to express herself.   In these early works from the 1950’s,  she demonstrates a keen eye for composition, color, and balance. She had an instinct for survival, which required rebellion and distancing herself from the world of her parents. She was driven to express herself, in her own words she wanted to “ show everything, my heart, my emotions” she said “Painting, calms the chaos that was agitating my soul, it was a way of taming the dragons”
She grew up in two cultures American and European. Her early work uses plaster in the manner of Jean Dubuffet and paint splashing and dripping in the style of Jackson Pollack. 

She was  highly original,  and a self -taught artist.  She evolved her own unique style, digging deep inside her psyche, exploring her inner most dreams and nightmares .  Above is a  detail of her Pink Nude in Landscape, 1956.  The breasts and the pubis are studded with pins pointing out in an effort to protect and empower the woman.
La Mariée or Eva Maria, 1963 plaster , wire mesh, lace  and found objects
222 X 200 X 100 cm
Questioning the “Bride” is she chattel this large infanta, sealing a profitable alliance ?

Saint Sebastien (Portrait of my Lover), 1961, mans shirt ,paint, nails ,darts,dart board
on wood 100 X 74 x15  Hanover Sprengel Museum gift of the artist

A very bad boyfriend inspired the creation of this effigy, a voodoo ritual and ceremonial exorcism. It is also an exploration of archetypes. She found the creation a powerful ceremony empowering her to remove the very bad boyfriend. She said that ritual became very important part of her work.  She imbues this object with sacred intent.  She stole one of the bad boyfriend's shirts and drove nails into it substituting the head with a dartboard. Even though it was created with rage and violence it is an evocative work of art.

 The above video  is from the Tate  Liverpool exhibition in 2008
Shooting Paintings, Tirs
Ready aim fire!   The shooting series, Saint Phalle invented participatory Interactive and art performance art.  These works evolved over the next ten years of her life, they were meticulously assembled cast plaster assemblages encasing bags of richly pigmented paint; which when hit by a rifle shot would burst open, randomly transforming the composition. Thanks to her work she would assert herself in society on her own terms “ For me my sculptures represent the amplified world of women and women’s delusions of grandeur, women in today's world, women in power”

 “ By shooting at my self, I was shooting at society and it’s injustices. By shooting at my own violence I was shooting at the violence of our times.” She felt she was able to die at her own hand and be reborn again.  In many ways she was reborn.

          Alter Black and White, 1962 Plaster paint and found objects on wood panel 250 X 206 35 cm

Leaping Nana, 1970 Silkscreen on Arches Paper 76 X 56 cm. Hanover Sprengle Museum

above and below Niki de Saint Phalle in American Vogue, April 15, 1968
double page spread photography by Bert Stern

Inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarice Rivers, the wife of American artist Larry Rivers, she began to use her artwork to consider archetypal female and the position of women in society. Her artistic expression of the proverbial “everywoman” was named 'Nanas'. Nanas are empowered feminine forms the shapes are reminiscent of a Paleolithic goddess. They are voluptuous self possessed, playful, defiantly not the perfect thin fashion mannequin or obedient little wife. Nanas cavorting are potent, proud, celebratory, and glorious in their open-legged defiance.

Saint Phalle said, “Communism and Capitalism have failed. I think the time has come for a new matriarchal society.”
Twirling Nanas definitely not naives

In 1970 Niki de Saint Phalle made an experimental feature length film with the director Peter Whitehead entitled "Daddy" where she explored incest and male domination. The film was inspired by dark episodes of her own childhood. In 1993 she published an autobiographical book "Mon Secret".  Niki de Saint Phalle overcame the trauma of her childhood to emerge as a truly creative artist. She found lasting love and a creative partnership.

Image Telerama France
Niki de Saint Phalle and her partner and collaborator the sculpture,]Jean Tinguely

Together they worked on major architectural commissions  the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris (1983) Golem (1972), the Cyclops (1969-1994) and the Tarot Garden (1978-1998)
The Stravinsky Fountain  in Paris being repaired and restored
Cat Head Tomen, 2000, Polyurathane iron, stones and glass mosaic. Santee, Garfield Park Conservatory

L'impeatrice at the Tarot Garden, Tuscany Italy
Saint Phalle working inside the L'imperatrice at the Tarot garden in Tuscany

Influenced by Antonio Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, Niki de Saint Phalle decided that she wanted to make something similar.  In 1979, she acquired some land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, about 100 km northwest of Rome. The garden, called Giardino dei Tarochi in Italian. The Tarot Garden contains sculptures inspired by the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took over 20 years to complete.  It opened in 1998.  It was financed by her own funds from licensing deals, Jewelry and perfume.
When Niki de Saint Phalle died in 2002 . She left behind an wealth of work, sometimes painful, sometimes 

From the Gand Palais
"Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is one of the most renowned artists from the mid-twentieth century. Throughout her prolific career, Saint Phalle created a complex body of work in various media which was deeply embedded with socio-political issues. With themes ranging from joyful to profound to intellectual, the paradoxical nature of her work has yet to be fully explored. She was one of the first women to receive international acclaim and recognition during her lifetime, as well as successfully create a public persona.  Similar to Warhol, Saint Phalle was able to use the media to skillfully guide the reception of her work.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with the kind participation of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. The exhibition benefits from loans from the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany and the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice, France - both recipients of generous donations from the artist."

Monday, August 2, 2021



Mystery Clock, Cartier Paris 1920
Ebonite (hard vulcanized rubber) citrine, yellow gold, white gold, platinum, diamonds, and enamel.
Photo by David Behl

This was the  largest exhibition to date with over 600 pieces.
Cartier is a true Paris Original.
The exhibition is well documented and beautifully presented including gigantic jeweled projections on the ceiling and walls of the Salon d'Honneur of the Grand Palais.

Tiara Cartier Paris 1914, natural pearls, diamonds onyx.

Marie of Romania Sapphire  Qatar Museum authority.
478 cts. of Sri Lankan origin, a natural (non-heat treated) sapphire.

 Marie Queen of Romania
Purveyors of jewels and objects to Queens, Duchesses, and celebrities and people with taste and style.
Cartier  is owned today by
Read more here

Cartier bracelet Silver and gold.  The trend in yellow gold,  I call"jungle modern" was
 Inspired by the Colonial Exhibition Paris, in 1931.

For fierce followers of fashion
The Duchess of Windsor Horst P.Horst 1948
Marlene Dietrich 1942,With Cartier silver and gold bracelet and earrings.  a gift from Jean Gabin
Image Marlene Dietrich collection Berlin

 Cartier a step in time, and always ahead.
 Cartier Panther watch Cartier Paris 1914
Mughal emerald 141.13 cts.
Jeweled rapture at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Paris 1925

Sir Bhupindra Singh Maharaja of Patiala (1891-1938)

Patiala Necklace
Special order Cartier Paris, 1928
Cartier Style and History

 Mrs. Daisy Fellowes

Cartier Hindu style necklace special order Cartier Paris  1936 for Mrs. Daisy Fellowes.

Cartier brooch  Mughal  emeralds, platinum and diamonds for Marjorie Merriweather Post 
Made by Cartier London in 1923 
Altered by Cartier New York 1928.
Image Cartier in America, Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

Image Hillwood Estate  Museum and Gardens
Marjorie Merriweather Post( then)Mrs. E. F. Hutton and her daughter  Nadenia
Painted by Giulio de Blaas in 1929

Queen Elizabeth II of great Britain with Princess Anne, photo by Marcus Adam.
 The Queen is wearing the flower brooch made by Cartier London Brooch in 1953.
 Flower brooch platinum diamonds,  23.60 cts pink diamond called the Williamson.
Royal collection/Her majesty Elizabeth II, London. Images Cartier Style and History 

 The sumptuous exhibition catalogue.

Cartier emerald, diamond, and pearl necklace,
 windows rue de la Paix Paris.

Cartier Paris earrings
windows rue de la Paix Paris.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Verdura's Jeweled Artistry

Image Verdura Photo by David Behl

Verdura Medusa brooch 1940, gold, rubies, morganite set upside down with
the back painted by Salvador Dali.

My introduction to the jewels of Verdura came through the late D.D. Ryan. She visited my studio in Manhattan to consult me about restoring her original Chanel Maltese cross cuff  bracelet. It was a gift from her friend Halston. It was one of the original pair belonging to Chanel. They were bombé lacquered white and slightly tapered with a gold, multi-colored gem-set Maltese cross.   She thought the white ground was vitreous enamel, my specialty,  it was in fact lacquer.   D.D. spent the afternoon with me. She inspired me with stories about her life, thoughts about her jewelry, and the interesting designers and people she knew. After this meeting I  started looking out for Verdura pieces at auction and in estate jewelry shops. And reading international fashion journals from  1920-1970’s for information about Fulco di Verdura.

In 1985 my interest in jewelry history lead me to collaborate with Penny Proddow on our first book   “American Jewelry: Glamour and Tradition”. Ward Landrigan had recently purchased the Verdura inventory, archives and business.  We had the pleasure of studying the magnificent design books first hand. There are over 1000 original exquisite renderings. 

A 30-carat aquamarine and diamond ray brooch designed
 by Verdura for Mrs. Henry Fonda. Christmas 1940.

We were also very fortunate to work for a collector who owned
a treasure trove of original Verdura jewels.

Image of the  Villa Niscemi  
from Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999

Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, duc di Verdura (1898–1978). Was born in Palermo, Sicily in the Conca d’ Oro -golden shell- the name for the hills encircling Palermo. He was born into a grand noble family. He grew up in the Villa Niscemi a jewel-like palazzi. At the time of Verdura’s birth, inherited titles and wealth still distinguished people.  His cousin, Duke Guiuseppe de Lampedusa, wove this remarkable world into his book “The Leopard” , which was made into a film in 1963 by the Italian film director  Luchino Visconti, starring Burt Lancaster.

I feel Verdura’s aesthetic taste was shaped by his birthplace, his family home, his rank, his social milieu, and his interests in art, decorative arts and the natural world. He was reared in the ornate traditions of the Italian nobility and the Catholic Church.  Sicily was bathed in the warm glow of the Mediterranean sun enhancing his sophisticated appreciation for color. 

Cole Porter by Horst 1934 Image from
Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999

In 1919 Verdura met Cole and Linda Porter on their honeymoon in Palermo, and they would remain friends and supporters throughout their lives. Verdura moved to Paris in 1927. His cousin Baron Ugo Oddo introduced him to Gabrielle Chanel. Chanel spotted his talent and hired him, he worked with her twice over an 8 year period.

Chanel and Verdura had carefree abandon and a sense of style.  Mixing precious and semiprecious stones together for color effect. Patricia Corbett called this
 "A playful blend of pageantry and nonconformity”

Verdura brooches for Chanel 1930,
 from the collection of Diana Vreeland

In Paris Verdura was absorbing everything from people and shops, to art and exhibitions. He studied medals, croix-de-garre, in the Musée de la Legion d’Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie. The Bibliotheque National had an exhibition about the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem; known as the Knights of Malta with their symbolic emblem the Maltese cross. 
Verdura would make this motif his own.

Image of the Byzantine Empress Theodora
 in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy

Byzantine art and Carolingian liturgical works reliquaries, jewel encrusted books, crowns and mosaics of the Italian city of Ravenna, would influence his use of colored stones.

Chanel photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1937.

She is wearing both of Verdura's Maltese cross cuff bracelets.

French Vogue, 2009

In 1934 Verdura left for the United States.  He worked in Hollywood and New York for the jeweler to the stars, Paul Flato. During his time with Flato he learned the art of jewelry rendering.

Jean Howard, Paul Flato, and Fulco di Verdura
on Sunset Boulevard, 1937.
Above: a gold commemorative cigarette case for Cole Porter,
 inscribed, Something to Shout About, 1942

Cole Porter wrote the score and lyrics for the film Something to Shout About.

Verdura's silver box commemorating  George S. Kaufman and Moss Heart's 
The Man Who Came to Dinner Inscribed 
"for Cole Porter because we think your wonderful, Moss and George".
Engraved and inlaid with the gold letters COLE PORTER, and decorated with black lacquer.

When Cole Porter’s musicals debuted on Broadway, his wife Linda would commission commemorative cigarette boxes from Verdura. 
Ruby and diamond wrapped heart brooch 1949
Verdura, New York

Verdura's reputation had grown, his jewels were sought after, and he had a steady flow of clients.  Verdura opened his showroom September 1, 1939 at 712 Fifth Avenue in New York.  His silent partner was his good friend, Cole Porter.   That was 75 years ago.

Right: a Verdura  natural shell,  blue sapphire, gold, and diamond brooch 1945
Left Lyropecten Nodudus or Lions Paw shell 

What does an artist "see"? With inspiration and imagination, he sees possibilities.
The shell on the left is fresh from the sea.  It is not sanded or polished.
The way Verdura saw things was pure genius.
His insight in using real shells was prescient, these shells are rare treasures.
He knew that no two jewels would ever be alike.
Right: a Verdura  natural shell, golden sapphire and diamond brooch 1950.
Left: a natural pecten crytopecten or "painted scallop" shell.

Only Verdura would think to put golden yellow sapphires and diamonds together 
with a sea shell.  The resulting jewel conjures up these words: 
 "The power to beautify is also the power to glorify." -James Trilling, from The Language of Ornament,1985
To glorify one must a have a deep feeling for beauty and a reverence for nature.

 A Verdura "Pin-up girl", Paulette Goddard, photographed by Horst in 1941 for Vogue.
 This Image is overlaid with Millicent Roger's 1941 Verdura lion's paw shell and diamond brooch.
Very like the brooch pinned to Paulette Goddard's scarf over her Hattie Carnegie cabana suit. 

Early 19th century Indian polychrome Rajasthan Ivory chess set 

A woman came into the Verdura show room to sell an original, Indian painted ivory Chess set
from Rajasthan. Verdura bought them. He was inspired by the 
collection of the Green Vaults in Dresden, Germany

-particularly the jeweled scenographic miniature.

The Princely Household at Delhi on the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb,
 a masterpiece of the goldsmith's art by Johann Melchior Dinglinger.
Verdura created an original
 jewel with every chess piece; they all sold.
The maharajah (king) of the chess set on his elephant, 1940

Salvador Dali Image from
Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999

In 1940-1 Verdura and Salvador Dali collaborated on a surrealist jewelry collection. The pieces were exhibited at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York.

Photo by David Behl

Verdura medusa brooch, 1940: gold, rubies, morganite set upside down with
the back reverse-painted by Salvador Dali.

Image from Bijoux a Portrait by Diana Scarisbrick
French  reverse-painted diamond earring made for the Russian Court.
Reverse-painted stones were not unique to this collaboration, there are historic precedents.

But it was Verdura the master jeweler who understood the optical properties of gemstones,
 where to reverse-paint the image, and how to set it.

The surrealist impulse of one artist complemented and inspired the savvy and expertise of the other. The results were shape-shifting with physiological undertones.

Photo by David Behl, 2013
Verdura and Dali brooch, pink tourmaline reverse-painted and foil-backed, set in sculpted gold, with Persian turquoises and ruby.

This remarkable jewel takes its inspiration from this mythological tale of impossible love. 

Apollo and Daphne

After the great flood, Apollo slew the monstrous poisonous serpent that covered the land with his bow and arrow. Full of pride over his victory, he arrogantly chided little cupid (Eros) who was playing with his quiver of arrows and bow.  “What do you have to do with war-like weapons you saucy little boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them.  Behold the conquest I have won…”. Venus’s son answered, “your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you!”

The gorgeous nymph Daphne (daughter of the river god, Peneus ) was Apollo’s first love. This was not a naturally occurring love, but one borne from malice. Cupid launched a dart of gold imbued with ardent desire. It struck stuck Apollo. Cupid shot another dart of lead filled with repulsion into the nymph Daphne.

Apollo thus love-struck perused Daphne ardently and relentlessly. “Do not fly as the lamb flies the wolf!" he called.  She ran in terror, and even as she fled she charmed him.

As he closed in upon her and her strength failed, she called out to her father, “help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form which has brought me into danger.” Instantly she was transformed into a laurel tree.  Apollo embraced the branches, which shrank from his lips.

"Since you cannot be my wife you shall be my tree; I shall wear you as my crown, you will decorate my harp and quiver."

Adapted from Bulfinch’s Mythology ,1948

Image from Baroque by Stephen Calloway

Verdura's elegant New York apartment in the1960's, mixing baroque sculpture with very plane curtains and high ceilings, palazzo style, designed by Simon Fleet. 

For more information read
VERDURA: The life and work of a master jeweler
By Patricia Corbett, Thames and Hudson, 2002
This book gives
 a brilliant history of the man, his times, 
 and the genesis of his work.