Exhibition “Van Cleef & Arpels and Japan: an artistic encounter” at 20, place Vendôme in Paris

From January 19 to June 17, 2024, the “Van Cleef & Arpels and Japan: an artistic encounter” exhibition showcases the Japanese influences that have inspired the Maison from the 1920s to the present day. Thirty pieces created between 1923 and 2012, from the Van Cleef & Arpels collection, as well as precious archival documents, are revealed at the Galerie du Patrimoine, place Vendôme.

In Europe, the latter half of the 19th century was profoundly marked by an artistic movement that the French critic Philippe Burty called Japonisme. From the 1920s and onwards throughout the century up to today, the Land of the Rising Sun has fascinated the Maison’s creators, inspiring them to adopt its motifs and symbols, to translate its techniques and materials, and to adapt its objects.

For example, since the middle of the 16th century, Japanese men have carried inrō, small boxes hung from their belts that serve as pockets for kimonos. The Maison has adapted their common use and purpose to turn them into typical beauty cases, while maintaining a strong claim to the inspiration of their origins. With the addition of chains and rings made of jade beads, lacquer sequins and gold or platinum links, they became pure expressions of the art of jewellery.

Japanese inspiration is also found in a rich iconography. Sometimes it is evident, like with a 1957 table clock depicting a couple of women in kimonos sculpted in rock crystal carrying a watch dial. Other times, a more discerning eye is required for the original image to reveal itself. Take for example the 1958 bracelet featuring twisted threads of gold interlacing on top of a tessellation of diamonds, as seen on the hilts of Japanese swords.

Since its foundation in 1906, Van Cleef & Arpels has also celebrated this Japanese inspiration with one of its main motifs: the lacquered butterflies. Symbol of nature in motion, they have been fluttering from collection to collection in a vast variety of designs and materials. Since 2004, the Maison has given carte blanche to Hakose San, a Japanese master lacquer work artist, to conceive the designs. He has featured buttercups on the Kikumakie clip, cherry blossoms on the Sakura model, or even Japanese irises on the Hanashobu butterfly.

A source of endless inspiration and dreams, Japan has captivated the Maison’s curious gaze since the 1920s. Today, this exhibition revisits the richness of these artistic and technical exchanges between the Far East and the West, as well as Van Cleef & Arpels’ constant quest for escape.

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