At the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century the Art Nouveau style gave the world many talented jewellers. For example, in France it was Rene Lalique and Georges Fouquet, in Spain — Luis Masriera, in Belgium — Philippe Wolfers.
Philippe Wolfers was a famous Belgian designer of jewelry and glassware, he worked in the Art Nouveau style. Philippe was born in 1858 in Brussels in a family of the famous Belgian silversmith Louis Wolfers. The surname of Wolfers is probably best known among the silversmiths in Belgium and it is one of the recognized jewelry dynasties in Europe.
Philippe began to work in his father's studio at the age of 16, later he studied plastic arts at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He graduated in 1875. The Wolfers' company, which at the time did not have its own stores yet, supplied its products to all the major jewellery houses in Europe including Cartier in Paris, Goldschmidt in Cologne and Bonebakker in Amsterdam. Young Philippe visited these customers several times a year. During his long trips around Europe he drew his own sketches which were the result of an inquisitive mind and a desire to innovate in response to the tradition of the 19th century.
The style of the F. Wolfers' works, including silver, had a great influence on the so-called japonism. In 1873, Philippe, along with his father visited the world fair in Vienna, where he was fascinated by the Japanese decorative art. This event greatly influenced his work. The style of Japanese artisans and a penchant for natural subjects can be traced in his early jewelry works. Philippe generally was interested in the Eastern art, the Renaissance and especially in nature. Nature became one of the most important sources of inspiration for him, and his paintings of flowers are jewels themselves.
Later, the leading role of Wolfers in the Belgian Art Nouveau style was connected with the fact that his works already had distinct features of the new style since the mid-1880s.
After the death of his father in 1892, Philippe Wolfers became the artistic director of the company "Wolfers Frères", which he headed with his two brothers. In addition to jewelry, Wolfers made designs for silver tableware, glass and crystal vases, table lamps. Glass products were always made in his workshop in a single copy.
By the way, the Philippe Wolfers' famous table lamp made a splash in the exhibition in Berlin. The lamp was made of pure gold and decorated with many precious stones. Philippe spent about two years on creation of this masterpiece.
In his spare time the designer experimented with new materials and techniques. For example, in the 1890s, he began to work closely with ivory, which was supplied for him from Congo, the Belgian colony in Africa. Almost simultaneously, he took lessons in the technique of enamel in Paris. His interior items of silver and ivory were accepted by public with great enthusiasm at the World Exhibitions in Antwerp in 1894 and in Brussels in 1897.
By 1897, Philippe decided to focus mainly on the development of jewelry. In general, the period between 1897 and 1905 was very fruitful for Philippe Wolfers. He made over hundreds of true gold and silver pieces of jewelry in the Art Nouveau style. Most products were made in a single copy and were included in a special catalogue, which now officially includes 151 products.
Inspired by the movement of symbolism and fairy-tale images, Philippe created magnificent jewels with floral motifs, stylization of animals, natural lines and sensual female forms. Floral shapes combined with precious stones, enamel, ivory and crystals. Like many jewelers, who worked in the Art Nouveau style, Philippe Wolfers gave secondary importance to precious stones in jewelry, preferring enamel and intricate carved bone and opals.
One of the most spectacular jewelry created by Philippe Wolverson is a necklace with wisteria, designed in 1900 for exposition at the World Fair in Paris. It consists of five alternating inflorescences of wisteria with carved watermelon tourmalines (green and pink colors in one crystal) and opals, nestled between soft green and purple enamel leaves in a thin frame of gold inlaid with garnets and rubies. In 2016 the necklace "Glycines" was sold at the Christie's auction for 220 thousand euros.
The brooch in the form of an insect with enamel, rubies and diamonds, which was made around the same time, was sold at the Sotheby's auction for 51M U.S. dollars. Despite the fact that Wolfers clearly was influenced by Lalique, he still followed his own muse, even representing similar themes and insects in particular. So, the Philippe's mole was more stylized, almost abstract compared to the "live" insects of Lalique.
F. Wolfers' jewelry perfectly demonstrates how the Art Nouveau period brought a stylistic revolution in the jewelry industry in Belgium and Europe as a whole.
Philippe Wolfers also often used a carved opal, which is one of my favorite stones. He appreciated it for the subtle play of color and translucency. While he was working with similar images of winged goddesses, jellyfish, birds, snakes and insects — his interpretation was heavier than Lalique's, and often disturbing, not like the essential French versions.
Carved opals in jewelry have always been complemented by an incredibly harmonious combination of other materials. So, in the matchless charm with the female face made of opal there are also gold, purple, blue, green and yellow enamel, baguette rubies, classic diamonds, sapphires, pearls.
The F. Wolfers quintessential work is the great gold brooch-pendant in the form of a dragonfly named "Libellule" (1903) with enamel, opals, rubies, diamonds, and Mexican opal.
The golden pendant "Cygne et Serpents" (1899) with opal, rubies, diamonds and pearls is also significant because Philippe created it for his wife Sophie Willstatter, whom he married in 1885. This decoration can be seen on her portrait, painted by Firmin Beecham. Interestingly, the Philippe Wolfers' wife is mentioned in the archives of the company as a "buyer". The reason is that Sophie was the daughter of one of the clients — Philippe of Mannheim. She was very wealthy and had a huge dowry, which was partially invested in the company of her husband.
In the 1900s Wolfers opened branches of his company in Ghent, Liege, Antwerp, Budapest, Dusseldorf, London and Paris. In 1905, his company had more than two hundred employees. Like Lalique, Wolfers hired skilled craftsmen to carry out their amazing projects.
After 1908 Philippe Wolfers focused on sculptures of marble, ivory and bronze, ceramics, metal furniture and decorative items. This was due to the fact that the Art Nouveau style gradually became out of fashion. As for Lalique, he found himself in art glass, and Wolfers drew attention to sculpture. At this stage his author's style became more geometric and abstract with a tendency towards symmetrical forms in his works.
For the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 F. Wolfers made a special living room, for which he designed every detail: furniture, curtains, carpets, porcelain and other utensils. This project was the last highlight of his artistic career.
In the period of 1885-1929 Philippe Wolfers was probably the most significant European designer of silver art and sculpture. After the death of Philippe Wolfers in 1929, his family business was continued by his son Marcel (1886-1976), thanks to him the Belgian company flourished until the 70s of the 20th century.
The outstanding works of Philippe Wolfers, whose success in Belgium was similar to the success of Lalique in France, largely influenced the jewelry art of the Art Nouveau era as a whole. His gold jewelry with precious and semi-precious stones, ivory and enamel showed the luxury and the symbolism which blended perfectly with the decadent lifestyle of that time. He also knew how to create magnificent decor items, real works of art, which erased the boundaries between a sculpture and a utilitarian object.
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