Aromatic Artistry: Perfume Bottles Through the Ages

December 1st, 2016 | posted by Danielle Halikias
30-5608_3

By the late 19th century, perfume and scent bottle popularity was at an all time high and designs consisted of complex artistry combined with some of the foremost designers in the world, like this ornate pliqué-à-jour enamel bottle, circa 1890

 

“A perfume is a work of art, and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece,”

Robert Ricci, with The House of Nina Ricci.

 

Perfume, the fragrant liquid eternally linked to the ideals of elegance and luxury, has a long and fascinating history. Today, the word perfume is used to describe lovely scented mixes. However, the origins of perfume take us back to something quite different from the modern fragrances we admire. Tied to expressions of religious devotion, health precautions, and cleanliness efforts – and pure pleasure – perfume’s earliest origins are a point of great intrigue.

 

 

 

As one of the earliest examples of perfume bottles in history, this Egyptian examples is a testament to the high regard of the fragrant substance

An early example of a perfume bottle from Ancient Egyptian culture that is a testament to the Egyptians high regard for liquid fragrances

 

Evidence of perfume making first appeared in the Ancient Egypt, when plant-based balms and essential oils were worn by both men and women for both religious and daily wear.  In recent times, archaeologists have uncovered elaborate Egyptian recipes for perfume-making that undeniably assert the importance of perfume in the Egyptian culture. In fact, Egyptians even had a god of perfume, Nefertum. Undoubtedly, these humble beginnings paved the way for other cultures experimentation in perfume craft. The sophisticated Greek and Roman empires heralded their fragrances as valuable works of art. In the 12th century, perfumery spread into Western Europe, particularly Paris, where production became an art form and the demand reached a feverish pace. However, the first of modern-type, alcohol-based perfume was proudly made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in 1370. Soon after that, the art of perfumery proliferated throughout the continent.

Yet, no other era in history saw the perfume industry flourish quite like the 19th century. A time of burgeoning fashion, socio-economic change and scientific advances, perfume was brought to the state as we know it. In fact, wearing perfume became as much as a part of a ladies’ beauty regime as hair and makeup. Of course, with these developments came an entirely new craft: perfume bottles. Because such an elegant substance practically demands all surrounding things luxurious, these small bottles witnessed immediate success.

In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example.

In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example.

As vessels for these lovely fragrances, perfume bottles are often considered a necessary and ideal accessory for perfume. Though they have existed since ancient times, when earlier Egyptians used containers of wood, glass, and clay, it wasn’t until the 19th century that perfume bottles became an art form of their own. In this time, an era that observed an unbounded fascination for finery, it was recognized that a bottle that encloses such an irresistible scent must be as striking and beautiful as the scent that is envelops.

In the early 1800s, early Europeans crafted a wide variety of one-of-a-kind bottles that featured materials such as gold, silver, shells, and even semi-precious stones. Within elite circles, these bottles experienced enormous popularity. In fact, some women even wore their most delicate bottles as jewelry and most proudly carried them in their evening pouches.

30-3333_1

Craze for one-of-a kind perfume bottles continued well into the 20th century with the help of renowned manufacturer, Rene Lalique.

By the late 1880s, perfume bottle craftsmanship flourished into unfathomable popularity. Building upon earlier motifs, styles of perfume bottles became much more sophisticated and intricate. This period saw the emergence of famous perfume manufacturers, such as Thomas Webb and Rene Lalique. Largely in part due to the extravagant floral Art Nouveau and Rococo styles and advances in glass making, craftsmanship was taken to an entirely new level. Now, perfume bottles began to represent distinct schools of design. Bottles wrapped in vibrantly colored cut glass, shrouded in silver overlay, porcelain, and even crystal mediums in complex designs like ornate plique-à-jour patterns, delicate enameling, and opaline glass demanded talented artistry and brought considerable attention. The perfume market consequently clamored for these intimate objets d’art, coveting the rich foliate and colorful designs which until then had only existed in the dreams of perfume connoisseurs. The 20th century ushered in a designer’s craze for perfume and the emergence of classic perfume staples that we know today.

Perfume bottles have long been prized for their functionality and as beautiful objets d’art. Today, these tiny treasures possess an incomparable charm regarded by both collectors and admirers. Viewed as a staple commodity in today’s culture, perfume’s long history epitomizes the importance its held for thousands of years. Without question, there are few things that evoke such a pleasant feeling quite like a fragrant perfume

The Sweetest Melody: Singing-bird Tabatières

November 19th, 2016 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter

Equal parts stunning objet d’art and mechanical marvel, few antiques evoke more delight than a singing-bird tabatière. Holding the beautiful box in the palm of your hand, all is calm. Until, that is, a vibrant feathered bird emerges singing, twirling, and flapping his tiny wings! At the conclusion of his song, the minute bird slips back into the box and the lid automatically closes behind it, leaving his audience enchanted.

This type of compact music box is a mechanical singing-bird tabatière, a word which means “snuffbox” in French. The term tabatière, however, has come to encompass any small decorative box that resembles a snuffbox in form, although it may not necessarily contain snuff or tobacco. Generally, singing-bird tabatières are rectangular in shape (although oval variations do appear in fewer numbers). These cases showcase a range of decorative techniques ranging from intricately etched and encrusted in precious stones to sleek, polished tortoiseshell and enamel. Each singing-bird tabatière has a hinged oblong lid that conceals the tiny bird within and is often adorned with idyllic landscapes or portraits. On the front of the case, there is a small slider; when it is activated, the oval lid opens and the star of the show, a brightly feathered bird, springs to life! The bird energetically turns to the right and left, flaps it wings, lifts its tail, opens its beak, and most importantly, produces a crisp, clear, and lovely birdsong.

The bird itself is comprised of a brass frame and the finest feathers, traditionally from South American hummingbirds. Because each bird is crafted by hand with authentic feathers, each tabatière is unique.

The origins of the singing-bird tabatière can be traced back to the second half of the 18th century and the Swiss city of Geneva. Although the exact date of completion is unknown, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, with the help of Jean Frederic Leschot, developed the first successful singing-bird tabatière around this time. The two gentleman had previously produced singing-bird cages, a similar concept yet much larger and in which the bird’s tune is created using a miniature pipe organ, each note being produced by a separate pipe. Not easily satisfied, the duo esteemed to create a compact, mechanical marvel in which the bird was further miniaturized and a single pipe of variable pitch could produce an endless stream of song. By 1785, singing-bird tabatières, complete with minuscule bellows and fusee movements, were known throughout England, France, and Germany. Originally intended as entertainment for royalty and the exceptionally wealthy, these automatons continue to delight collectors today.

 

 

Never Arrive Empty Handed: Hostess Gifts Around the World

November 18th, 2016 | posted by James Gillis

 

The custom of gift-giving goes back thousands of years, pre-dating human civilization. Whether a symbol of appreciation, love or admiration, gift giving is a time-honored tradition cherished by every culture around the world.

In Chinese customs, tea is the ideal gift to bring your host or hostess

In Chinese customs, tea is the ideal gift to bring your host or hostess

Since the earliest times, the bestowing of gifts has been symbolized as a token of love and appreciation. For primitive man, gifts from tribe and clan leaders symbolized status. Later, Native Americans celebrated the presence of others with a potluck. By the Middle Ages, gifts were used to secure the personal favor of a king or show allegiance in times of war.  In other instances, heads of state and other important dignitaries gave gifts as a sign of good will and peace. Gifts are also given to express love. When cunning Count Gregory Orlov of Russia gave Catherine the Great a 198-carat diamond to win her back, the bar established was certainly set high for all others.

Undeniably, no other type of gift more perfectly displays admiration and appreciation than that of a gift given to a host or hostess.

With the Holiday season close at hand, selecting the ideal gift for your host and hostess can be daunting. As a lovely way to thank someone for their hospitality, the ideal gift for your host or hostess is one that is both personal and meaningful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but rather a reflection of the nature of the occasion and local custom.

Over the years, gift giving traditions have evolved to reflect changes in social norms. In some countries, a hostess gift is considered obligatory, while in others, the gesture is reserved for the most special occasions.

Let’s navigate the different customs of hostess gifts below:

30-3463_1

A blue & white porcelain crane teacup that epitomizes the importance of tea in Chinese customs

China

In China, a home or party guest typically gives their host any item related to tea. In this culture, tea holds an ultimate social and spiritual importance. In fact, it is so vital that there is never a day when a cup of tea is not consumed! Symbolizing spirit and wisdom, tea represents the depth and weight of a friendship between two people, making it the perfect token of appreciation to bring to your host. Note: a guest in this culture should never gift a clock, as the word for clock in Mandarin has the same phonetic sounds as “terminating” or “attending a funeral” and those of Cantonese heritage view the passage of time as a representation of inevitable death.

A silver gilt wine trolley that can convenientely rolls across the dining table, ensuring that each guest receives a glass

A silver gilt wine trolley that can convenientely rolls across the dining table, ensuring that each guest receives a glass

 

France

Synonymous with the finest wine producing regions in the world, it is no surprise that any guest in France typically brings their host a wine-related gift. Indeed, France is practically the pole bearer for the world wine industry. Undoubtedly the tastiest, many of wines from this country are not surprisingly benchmark styles in the wine industry. It is most fitting, then, that any guest bring their host a bottle for the entire company to enjoy, or even any wine-related accessory to fit this custom.

Italy

In Italy, there is no other perfect host or hostess gift than that of flowers. Simple, fresh, and delicate, gifting flowers is thoroughly characteristic of true Italian culture. However, like in every culture, some things are simply not done. If you’re ever invited to dinner by a native Italian family, there are certain stipulations when choosing the perfect flowers for your host: avoid chrysanthemums and any stems in red or yellow variations. Ever further, never gift your host or hostess with an even number of flowers. Why? Because these aspects are associated with death and mourning. To play it safe, no matter the occasion, roses are among the most frequently brought flowers.

Crafted of of cloisonné enamel, this delicate cigarette case would make for the perfect hostess gift.

Crafted of of cloisonné enamel, this delicate cigarette case would make for the perfect hostess gift.

Russia

Considered a country with some of the most sound and long-lasting customs, Russian gift-giving traditions may be described as utterly magnificent. In Russia, one always picks a gift for the hostess, who is typically the female head of the household. When selecting a gift for your host, Russians favor smaller items with care and consideration towards the receiver’s personality and preferences. Favorite items typically include any small, delicate items or gifts associated with sweets, desserts, or perfumes.

 

A Colorful World of Innovation: Wedgwood’s Jasperware

November 11th, 2016 | posted by Susan Lapene

“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense” – Josiah Wedgwood

In a career that lasted over 40 years and fundamentally spurred the industrialization of the manufacturing of stoneware, Josiah Wedgwood and his factory achieved perfection in ceramic art.

When people think about ceramics, they tend to only think in simpler terms: jugs and mugs made from earthen clay. However, the range and sophistication of ceramics reaches far beyond that and it was Josiah Wedgwood who changed that notion with his invention of jasperware. A first viewing of Wedgwood’s jasperware typically elicits a reaction of awe. Lots or little previous knowledge of the medium aside, there’s no denying jasperware’s incomparable elegance and impact in the decorative arts.

No other type of stoneware more accurately reflects the perfection that Josiah achieved than his invention of jasperware, named after the natural mineral jasper. The result of several thousand individual experiments, jasperware was introduced to the public in 1775 and it was groundbreaking in the field. Some even describe this as the most important development in ceramics since the Chinese discovered porcelain some 1,000 years earlier. After perfecting the technique of crafting wares out of this new material, Wedgwood opted to adorn the surfaces with stark-white Classical motifs, giving it what we know today as the “Wedgwood look.”

Wedgwood produced jasperware in approximately 30 different colors. With the vast number of jasper pieces produced by Wedgwood, it is easy to distinguish between them all by the multitude of colors possible in this new-found medium. More than that, color is also one of the main contributing factors in determining the value of jasperware. Of course, while condition and shape also play a part in a piece’s value, some colors just simply demand higher prices than others. Let’s navigate the briefing below to learn the basics behind the colors of jasperware.


 

30-5560_1

 

Pale “Wedgwood” Blue

This calm, light blue type may be described an iconic staple in Wedgwood jasperware. From its development, early on in Josiah’s experimentations and into the contemporary period, this blue has remained a recognizable Wedgwood signature worldwide. Importantly, older pieces of pale blue are distinguishable from its modern descendants because of they have a deeper hue that offers a greater contrast to the white reliefs that adorn it. Today, it is considered the flagship color of Wedgwood pieces.

 

 

 


30-5197_4

 

 

 

Black

Perhaps the most exotic, this color allows the greatest contrast between the classical white relief ornamentation and the dark, rich body of the pieces. Produced in various spurts beginning in 1878, it was abandoned in 1977.

 

 

 

 


30-5199_2

 

 

 

Dark Royal or Portland Blue

This color is quite variable, ranging from a bright lively blue to very dark navy. In most collector’s books, the clear majority of jasper pieces pictured fall in this color category. This is no surprise: up until the very end of jasper production, dark blue was by far the most popular and best-selling color.

 

 

 


 

30-5504_1

Crimson (Red)

Red is considered the rarest and the most darling of colors. Only produced in a short window of time, it’s extremely hard to find pieces of this variety. Initially introduced into Josiah’s repertoire of different colors in the late 1880s, its short production was suspended by 1910. Discontinued due to its difficulty in craft (color bleeding was the main culprit), the number of unacceptable pieces from the kiln made this color unprofitable. Because of the small number produced, this color is highly collectible on the market. In recent years, this color demands the highest prices, with even insignificant shapes taking ten times the price of significant shape in a different color.

 


 

30-5510_1

 

Tri Color

Just like other color varieties, this tri-color variation starts from the same white base. Differing, these pieces feature two or three different colors. Whereas different colors demand different treatments, to successfully apply different ones is an extraordinary feat. The lavish appearance of this variety not only displays great creativity on Josiah’s part, but a high level of craftsmanship not witnessed before. Naturally, these sell for much higher prices than most single color pieces. And, in many instances, this variety is as valuable as crimson and are eagerly sought after by collectors.

 

 

 


Lilac

Produced in various stages from the late 18th century first decade of the 20th century, this color varies enormously. Pieces in this color category can range from delicate purplish-pink in the earlier stages of production to a truer lavender color in the later periods.


30-5198_2

 

 

Green

Among the various shades of green that the Wedgwood factory produced, it is the lighter variety, sage, that attracted the most attention and is seen most often. At the end of the 20th century, a darker, richer olive green was introduced. However, like the crimson variety, this color was easily subject to color bleeding and therefore was only produced during a short window of time.

 

 

 


 

In the years after the development of jasperware, the importance of Wedgwood is still far reaching. Undeniably, the Wedgwood’s early experimentations were a turning point in the industry. With their unmistakable designs and forms, the different colors of Wedgwood ceramics continue to enthrall collectors and consumers alike.

 

Sèvres Porcelain + Napoléon Bonaparte: The Ideal Duo

November 3rd, 2016 | posted by George Peralta

Few things in history bear a distinction quite like Sèvres Porcelain. Representative of both royal and artistic excellence, Sèvres vases, urns, pedestals, and dinnerware have long been heralded as the standard for fine design and craftsmanship. Yet, more than that, Sèvres is an icon for the changing tastes that encapsulated French monarchs who were completely enamored by the creativity and delicacy of the pieces.

A Sèvres bisque porcelain bust of the great Napoleon Bonaparte was created during the ruler's lifetime

A Sèvres bisque porcelain bust of the great Napoleon Bonaparte that was created during the ruler’s lifetime

From its  inception in 1739 at the Château de Vincennes, Sèvres porcelain manufactory was favored by French royalty and epitomized ultimate luxury. Objects commissioned by French monarchs, beginning with Louis XV, were used as extensions of power, assertions of their access to luxury, and became a means of royal veneration.

A Sèvres-style porcelain palace covered urn that depicts the marriage of Napoléon to the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria

A Sèvres-style porcelain palace covered urn that depicts the marriage of Napoléon to the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria

Undoubtedly, the success Sèvres porcelain would not be so without the patronage and support France’s first emperor, Napoléon Bonaparte. While much of Napoléon’s life surrounds his political and militaristic endeavors as France’s first emperor, his reign was also characterized by a lifelong affair with the decorative arts. Because Napoléon’s power was not predicated on divinity, a clear demonstration of the material and cultural benefits brought by his administration was necessary. This shift in the nature of executive power prompted a change in the design and decoration of Sèvres porcelain.

Gracefully shaped, the body is adorned with the exquisite gilt motifs of the Napoléonic Empire, hand-painted over the signature deep cobalt blue glaze made famous by the renowned Sèvres manufactory

The body is adorned with gilt motifs of the Napoléonic Empire, hand-painted over the signature deep cobalt blue glaze made famous by Sèvres

Luxurious goods and artistic production under Napoléon flourished in France like never before with the aid of Sèvres porcelain. Often called the Empire style, this period lends its name to the new symbols, décor, and triumphs in art that Napoléon used to stamp his era. Sèvres porcelain, therefore, became the articulation for Napoléon’s imperial identity as he eagerly promoted the elaborately ornamented pieces that Sevres crafted. In fact, Napoléon commissioned eleven dinner services that Sèvres expertly crafted to chart the triumphs and benefits of his regime. Consequently, Sèvres pieces commissioned by and made under Napoléon become the material embodiment of his power.

Importantly, luxurious goods depicting and referencing the Emperor’s legendary reign continued to be crafted even after his fall from power. Signifying his mark in history, Napoléon’s influence and rule continued to be celebrated and memorialized. Now, nearly a century later, adoration and admiration for Sèvres porcelain and its aide in Napoléon’s image and power still exists. Modern day obsession for the gutsy emperor prevails and just one look at decorative arts under his direction shows the immense influence he carried.

 

We invite you to visit our current exhibition: Napoléon: General. Emperor. Legend. The exhibition is being held at our gallery, 630 Royal Street New Orleans, in the heart of the French quarter. It is free and open to the public. We would love for you to join us in our intrigue for Napoléon!

Next »