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Jean Després

Jean Després, the French Art Moderne innovator of “Motor Jewels,” created wearable art of powerful simplicity and superb handicraft. Born in 1889 to a family of jewelers, Després first apprenticed as a goldsmith in Paris, and then worked in aircraft engine design during World War I. His wartime career in aviation was to shape his future, as were his friends, who included renowned Cubist, Georges Braque. Like them, Després rejected the constraints placed on artists by tradition, instead drawing inspiration from the radical transformation and pace of change in the world around him. In its massing of geometric shapes, balance of composition, and minimalism, Després’ work shows the influence of Cubist reductivism in the Late Art Deco era, creating conceptual jewelry, employing modest materials, such as silver, enamel, and hardstones. Després often hand-hammered his metal surfaces, creating visual and textural contrasts among martelé indentations, reflective facets, and polished planes. Ironically, however, he did all his own work by hand, like a Renaissance master. His work drew many admirers, collected by Josephine Baker, as well as a second generation of devotees, including Andy Warhol.

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