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Lalique Jewelry At The Nelson-Atkins Museum World’s Fair Exhibition: Three Rene Lalique Jewels On Display – Great R. Lalique!

Pansy Brooch By Rene Lalique Circa 1904

In 1911, former Kentucky and Missouri schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins died at the age of 75. When her husband died 25 years earlier in 1886, he had left here about $250,000, which by the time of her death had become $1,000,000 (this at a time when $1,000,000 was a lot of money of course).

Mary McAfee Atkins Of Kansas City MissouriShe left $300,000 in her will to her adopted home town “… for the purchase of necessary ground in Kansas City, Missouri, and the creation of a building to be maintained and used as a Museum of Fine Arts for the use and benefit of the public.”

One notable event during the period when Mrs. Atkins was a widow, and just a country mile from her Kansas City, Missouri home, was the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis Missouri. A major World’s Fair (how could it be a World’s Fair and not be major is a good question), it was attended by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Geronimo…yes THE Geronimo, Henri Poincare, T.S. Eliot, Helen Keller, and too many more people and companies to mention. Well except one of course, because Rene Lalique objects were exhibited and sold in St. Louis. And it was there that Henry Walters, the eldest son of William Thompson Walters, a wealthy Baltimore (by way of Liverpool Pennsylvania) liquor trader and railroad man, would see and purchase some great Lalique Jewelry on exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition.

Grapes Necklace By Rene Lalique Circa 1904Walters would die in 1931, leaving his palazzo like art house and contents to the City of Baltimore. It remains today, over 75 years after its opening in 1934, as The Walters Art Museum. And it has about a dozen great pieces of R. Lalique in its 35,000 object collection; a collection that coincidentally contains about the same number of objects as the Museum which is the main point of our story. A story we shall now resume :).

In 1915, four years after the death Mrs. Atkins, William Rockhill Nelson, the man who founded the Kansas City Star Newspaper died. He left the bulk of his large estate in a trust, the income to be used for the purchase of artworks such as paintings, sculptures, books, tapestries, and engravings “…for the delectation** and enjoyment of the public generally.” The estates of a couple other Nelson family members and Mr. Nelson’s lawyer also left additional funds for the same purpose.

Nelson-Atkins Museum Plaza At Night - Kansas City MissouriThese Atkins and Nelson bequests were unrelated and each estate had its own plans. So it would be some time before events would take their course and these two different bequests would join purpose and coalesce into something tangible for an even greater public good. But coalesce they did, and with trustees for the schoolteacher, the publisher, and the local government working together, in December 1933, at the height of the great depression, on the grounds of Nelson’s former mansion, the new museum was opened to the public. The cost was a striking 2.75 million dollars.

The whole plan started off with land and money, but without much art. But with wildly depressed prices for fantastic artwork due to the depression, the new museum was quickly able to create a world-class collection across many fields.

Nelson-Atkins Museum World's Fair Exposition - Kansas City MissouriCoincidently, the museum architecture was modeled after the classic design of the Cleveland Museum of Art, which recently put on its own World’s Fair Exhibition around the objects of Lalique, Tiffany, and Faberge from the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Fast forwarding in our walk down Midwestern art history lane, in the early part of our new century, the Museum space was expanded for the first time, to nearly 400,000 square feet with the addition of about 165,000 square feet in the new Bloch Building. The Bloch Building was named after the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Henry Bloch and his wife Marion; Henry being the H in H & R Bloch.

Nelson-Atkins Museum World's Fair Exposition - Inside View - Kansas City MissouriAnd it is at the Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art in Kansas City Missouri, born of the generous mid-western philanthropic and charitable mindset that is a hallmark of the American character, as part of their amazing and creative exhibition “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939” that our story comes together.

This exhibition makes the point that all these various World’s Fairs were the embodiment of the then leading design and artistic expression as it stood around the globe. Companies and countries brought their best, and it would be shown in a milieu of the best, newest, most innovative products from dozens of countries and hundreds of companies. These Fairs were more than just big car boot sales looking for buyers. They developed into an expression of the state of art, design, and technology of the day. In the time before routine international travel, before computers and the worldwide web, before the television, and in many cases before cars, planes, telephones, cameras, radios and even electric lights, these Fairs were the place you could go to see what would astound you in a time when the world was a larger, much more unfamiliar, and stranger place.

Nelson-Atkins Museum World's Fair Exposition - Inside View Of Exhibits - Kansas City MissouriIt’s only natural that among the makers who would not shy away, but would savor the chance to bring the a-game*** to such a gathering, would be the great Rene Lalique. Be it Paris in 1900 or 1925, St. Louis in 1904, or anywhere else on the globe that the leading artistic endeavors of the day would meet and be compared side by side, Rene Lalique was an anxious participant. And it was that country mile from the schoolteacher and the publisher, a perfect place for the great Lalique to show his goods half a world away from home, that Henry Walters bought, retained, and donated for the public delectation, two of the three pieces of phenomenal Lalique Jewelry that have once again made the trip back to where they first met the American public eye, in Missouri.

And that fortuitous sale back in 1904 could not have occurred in a more apt setting. For Missouri is known throughout America as the “Show Me” state, an expression attributed**** to Missouri Congressman Villard Vandiver who in 1899 is reported to have said in a speech, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Just the place for Rene Lalique.

Wasps Stickpin By Rene Lalique Circa 1898-1899

The Nelson-Atkins Inventing The Modern World Exhibition, bringing in objects from so many World’s Fairs held over nearly 90 years, allows a visitor to see the artistic and technological progression as time moved through the industrial revolution and the age of invention. And it allows viewing each Fair and its objects in the context of the flow of history, not just for design and industry, but culturally as well. Because wrapped up in each object on display is the ability, the talent, the aspirations of the artist, and the state of the industry and the cultures from which they sprang.

Nelson-Atkins Museum Cafe - Kansas City MissouriIn addition to the wonderful Pansy Brooch and Grape Necklace from The Walters, is the amazing Wasps Stickpin exhibited at the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1900. This stickpin has been lent by the Design Museum in Copenhagen Denmark. All three objects are stunning in their overall artistic concept, presentation and detail. And all three are trademark Rene Lalique; natural world motifs magnificently executed using materials for what they bring to the artistic nature of the project, and not just creating holders for valuable gems.

Note that each of the three Lalique Jewels is documented in the seminal work Rene Lalique Schmuck und Objets d’art 1890 – 1910 by Sigrid Barten, which is available for purchase in our Library. The Grapes Necklace is Object 346 and can be found on Page 246. The Wasps Stickpin is Object 1400 on Page 478, and the Pansy Brooch is Object 1061 on Pages 414-415.

The Nelson-Atkins is open Wednesdays 10 to 4, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 to 9, Saturdays 10 to 5, and Sundays Noon to 5. You know what we said earlier about the mid-western mindset? Admission is free. While you’re there, you might want to check out the other stuff they have as well :). Visit their website or call them at 816-561-4000 for more information.

The Exhibition will be at the Nelson-Atkins through August 12th, 2012. It will then move to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for the period October 13th, 2012 to February 24, 2013. On April 14, 2013 it will open at the New Orleans Museum of Art and remain there until August 4, 2013. It will then move to its final stop at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina from September 21, 2013 to January 19th, 2014.

Nelson-Atkins Museum Lawn And Main Building- Kansas City MissouriYou can also visit the R.Lalique Jewelry section of the Rene Lalique Biography here at RLalique.com, where you will find links to all the great jewelry resources on the site. And visit the Lalique Museum page for a listing and links to over 80 different museums worldwide that have works of Rene Lalique in their collections. This list includes the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as their collection contains a great looking black glass Lezards et Bluets Vase and a Sauterelles Vase, The Walters Art Museum, The Design Museum Denmark in Copenhagen, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the New Orleans Art Museum.

** Delectation means enjoyment or pleasure. So a food that is good might be called delectable, which would be pleasing or delicious. If it’s really good, it could be delectacious, but we’re not sure if that is a real word or not.
*** “a-game” is an American expression which means to bring your best.
**** “show me” as the watchword for Missouri has other claimed origins, none this compelling.

Mrs. Atkins photo from Mr. Denardo.
Three inside photos of the Exhibition by Bob Greenspan.

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