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By Falize Freres (Paris, fl. late 19th/early 20th Century)
This exceptional surtout de table brilliantly showcases the creative style and fine skill of flourishing Art Nouveau craftsmen, the Falize brothers.
Silver mermaids, green pate de verre (moulded glass), and scrolling, fluid foliate motifs adorn this beautiful, important fin de siècle piece.
The surtout is oval in shape and mirrored at its base, and decorated around its edges with organic, scrolling foliage, acanthus leaves, and shells. At each side of the surtout there is a three-light candelabrum, each with a crystal glass bowl, all on scrolling silver branches. The lights are delicately shaped like tulips, and their circular drip pans also feature floral decorations. The silver base of the surtout is signed 'Falize / Paris'.
The most remarkable part of this exceptional surtout de table, however, is the stunning centrepiece which shows four silver mermaids, partially submerged in a green pate de verre sea, with their tails emerging from the water. They are holding aloft a beautifully-cast crystal glass bowl.
The fluid lines, female figures, and blending of natural and mythological themes make this piece instantly recognisable as a beautiful example of Art Nouveau-era design. The Art Nouveau was a short-lived but prolific, innovative, and creative movement in the decorative arts around the turn of the 20th Century in Europe.
Falize, the jewellery house responsible for this stunning surtout, is often credited as being one of the pioneers of the movement. Its founder, Alexis Falize (1811-1898), together with his son, Lucien Falize, was one of the first jewellers to incorporate Japanese-style elements into his pieces. Japanese art was one of the major influences on the Art Nouveau.
Indeed, another famous jeweller, Henri Vever (1854–1942) was so inspired by the Falizes’s designs that he credited them with revitalizing the French decorative arts during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870).
The present piece is the work of the Falize Freres, the name the company adopted in 1897 when Lucien’s sons André Alexis Eugène (1872-1936), Jean Henri Lucien (1874-1948), and Pierre Isidore (1875-1953) took over following his death. Under its new directors, the company exhibited to wide acclaim at the 1900 Exposition Universelle – often seen as the high point of the Art Nouveau period – where they won two Grand Prizes.
The Falize firm also collaborated with a number of other important French Art Nouveau makers: in this piece, for example, the influence of celebrated glassmaker Emile Gallé can be felt in its use of pate de verre, a glassmaking technique used to brilliant effect by Gallé (1846-1904).
Pate de verre literally translates as ‘glass paste’ and refers to a form of glassmaking where glass powder is mixed with a binding agent such as gum Arabic and then applied to a mould. It produces a particularly brilliant smooth, shaped glass effect.
Surtouts de table were becoming increasingly popular in the late 19th Century, as growing numbers of consumers found themselves able to own luxury objects associated with dining and entertaining. Consequently, designers invested more and more energy into making ever more beautiful and ornate pieces.
An item such as this would have been one of the finest surtouts made during the period.
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