The Making of Art Exhibition - Cartier in Chengdu


In the 1910s‑1920s, Cartier became known for its lavishly decorated Mystery Clocks, which remain to this day, some of the most expensive decorative objects ever produced by the French jeweler and watchmaker. First invented in the 19th century by the illusionist Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, the clocks have a crystal dial that makes it look as though the hands float. While the first model in 1912 was a rather simple looking crystal parallélépipède, more elaborate clocks were conceived by Maurice Couët in the 1920s, including 12 with Chinese origins.

Several of these clocks, including a Chinese jade carp clock and one with the Chinese goddess Kuan Yin holding a branch of flowering ling-shi, will be on display as part of The Making of Art exhibition, opening at the Sichuan Museum in Chengdu later this month.

Cartier’s fascination with China started in the 1910s, explains Pierre Rainero, Director of Image, Style and Heritage at Cartier, when Louis Cartier started to purchase pieces of sculpted jade he would find in antique dealers, in particular the famed Paris-based Ching Tsai Loo, and have them incorporated into designs. Chinese influences can also be seen in the use of lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl on vanity cases and powder boxes, along with the mix of green and red in design — a color code not usually associated with western design at the time, says Rainero. One example on display in Chengdu will be a pair of ear pendants from 1926, which incorporate jade, coral, and enamel, while another is a stunning Cartier inkwell in glazed red porcelain that once belonged to American socialite Mona Bismarck.

“From the 1910s onwards, the Chinese inspiration never really stopped. For instance, the chimera in sculpted coral, often coming from China, was one of the first animals Jeanne Toussaint started working on in the ‘30s, and in our bestiary, the chimera and the dragon have always reappeared regularly. Even this year, we have presented a timepiece with a skeleton whose bridge is in the shape of a dragon. And the associations of colors, rooted in Chinese culture are in our aesthetic vocabulary, forever,” Rainero notes.

The exhibition will present 357 pieces from the Cartier Collection, including 13 that have never exhibited before and several original ink and gouache drawings from the 1920s.

The piece de resistance will be Barbara Hutton’s jadeite bead necklace that Cartier bought back at Sotheby’s auction last year for $27.44 million. The Cartier pieces will be presented juxtaposed with Chinese antiques from the museum’s own collection to highlight the transcultural exchanges that have long existed between the East and the West.

The Making of Art runs from April 18 through August 2 at the Sichuan Museum, Chengdu.


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