The Islamic art of Cartier exhibited in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Pen box would have belonged to Mirza Muhammad Munshi, Deccan, India, late 16th early 17th century.

Muhammad Yusuf, Feature Writer

From October 21 to February 20, 2022, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris presents “Cartier and the arts of Islam: At the sources of modernity”, a major exhibition which traces the influence of Islamic art on the objects created by Louis Cartier, founder of Cartier, and the designers of the great French jewelry house, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. Co-organized by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Dallas Museum of Art and resulting from a collaboration with the Louvre Museum and the support of Cartier, it shows the influence of Islamic art on the fine jewelry of the Maison Cartier in the design of jewelry and precious objects.

More than 500 pieces, including jewelry and objects from Cartier, masterpieces of Islamic art, drawings, books, photographs and archival documents, trace the origins of the jeweler’s interest in oriental motifs. The exhibition explores the origins of this influence through the Parisian cultural context and the figure of Louis and Jacques Cartier, two of the founder’s grandsons, who played a major role in the creation of a new aesthetic imbued with modernity.

button Button, India, 18th century.

The American architectural firm DS&R (Diller Scofidio & Renfro) was commissioned to design the scenography of the exhibition. The exhibition is organized as a thematic chronological journey divided into two parts, the first of which explores the origins of interest in Islamic art and architecture through the cultural background of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and reviews the creative context among designers and studios in search of sources of inspiration.

The second part illustrates the lexicon of forms inspired by Islamic art, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. From the start, according to connoisseurs, visitors will find themselves immersed in these shapes and patterns with three of Cartier’s iconic creations facing masterpieces of Islamic art. Along the North Gallery, people are invited, room after room, to explore the creative process and the early sources of inspiration in jewelry design.

The books from Louis Cartier’s library and his collection of Islamic art were made available as resources for designers. Louis’ personal collection, reconstituted thanks to the archives of the Maison Cartier, is represented through several masterpieces brought together for the first time since the dispersal of his collection. Charles Jacqueau was an important and brilliant member of the Cartier design team. A selection of his design drawings is presented, thanks to a loan from the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The exhibition continues by exploring the travels of Jacques Cartier, notably in India in 1911, where he meets the Maharajahs of the subcontinent. The gemstone and pearl trade offered him a way to enter the country. This allowed him to forge relationships with the Maharajahs while collecting ancient and contemporary jewelry, which he would resell as is, be inspired by them or dismantle them to integrate them into new creations. These different sources of inspiration, and the oriental jewels which enriched the House of Cartier collections, have helped to redefine forms as well as artisan techniques. Head ornaments, tassels, bazubands (an elongated bracelet worn across the upper arm) came in a wide range of shapes, colors and materials to suit the fashion of the time.

The flexibility of Indian jewelry has led to technical innovation, new settings and different methods of assembling parts. The incorporation of different parts of jewelry, fragments of Islamic artwork called ‘primers’, and the use of oriental textiles to create bags and accessories, was also a hallmark of the early Cartier House. of the 20th century. The second part of the exhibition, in the South gallery, is devoted to the lexicon of forms inspired by Islamic art, in particular thanks to the collections of the Musée des Arts décoratifs and the Musée du Louvre.

Although famous for its “garland style” jewelry, from 1904 Cartier began to develop pieces inspired by geometric patterns of Islamic art found in books on ornamentation and architecture. from a pioneering repertoire later qualified as “Art Deco”. The motifs and forms of Islamic art and architecture, sometimes easily identifiable, sometimes decomposed and rethought to make their source untraceable, have become an integral part of the stylistic vocabulary of creators. Today, they are still part of the Cartier repertoire, as illustrated by the contemporary jewelry, which completes the exhibition.

Islamic civilization occupies a unique place in the close web of relations between the Western world and societies beyond its borders. It has grown over the centuries by the very diverse cultural facets it offers, as well as by its geography, extending from the original Mediterranean basin to more distant lands, from Andalusia to India. A highly political and aesthetically rich subject, the relationship between European artistic creation and Islamic art is anything but incidental, as evidenced by the acute awareness of the historical context, of the diplomatic alliances between France under the reign of Francis I and the Empire. Ottoman from Suleiman the Magnificent, to the colonial and imperialist conquests of the 19th and 20th centuries – a mixture of fascination, violence and domination.

If Edward Saïd’s critique of Orientalism remains a seminal work, many more recent exhibitions and studies have shown to what extent the arts of Islam have gone from “a passive object of study to that of an active subject. ‘exchange’, to use the words of Rémi Labrusse, professor of contemporary art history. Labrusse’s work has shed light on the role and influence of Islamic art on Western art, both in Europe and across the Atlantic, especially in the mid-19th century – a fascinating period that gradually ushered in the ’emergence of an understanding of cultural diverse identities, as well as their assimilation into multiple artistic and aesthetic projects.


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