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René Lalique Fruitwood Figural Letter Opener


René Lalique shaped the musculature of this figural letter opener with great mastery, combining the realism of the academics and the sensitivity of Art Nouveau. Each undulation of flesh was emphasized with a wash of dark brown shellac. Lalique formed the knife’s blade with the figure’s long tresses, arranged in aqueous ripples “du victorien”. Since his study at Sydenham, England, Lalique gained great respect for the Pre-raphaelite artists. Ophelia, first popularized among the Pre-raphaelites, would become a token of the Art Nouveau movement. Sir John Everett Millais famously depicted a drowned Ophelia (1851) with her hair suspended in water and strewn with flowers. The motif of women in water was used as an expression of Liebestod, or love death.

Coined by Wagner in Tristan und Isolde, nineteenth-century viewers became preoccupied with the idea of erotic death. With the fin-de-siecle seen by many as the end of the world, the duality between hedonistic pleasure and imminent cataclysm became an appealing theme for bohemian society. Long hair was only seen by men in the bedroom, becoming a symbol of sensuality. Drowned women became the epitome of morbid beauty, dead to preserve innocence or punished for their carnal sin. Women in water were often depicted lying limp, passively allowing the currents to take them where it willed. In the Vienna Secession Movement, a woman’s passivity became a nihilistic metaphor for fate and divine will, with their decisions being of no consequence to their ultimate end.

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  • Product Details
  • Curator's Notes

Item #: S-20390
Artist: René Lalique
Country: France
Circa: 1885
Size: 15.375" height, 2.5" width, 1" depth
Materials: Carved Fruitwood
Signed: ''R. Lalique''
Documentation: A signed letter of provenance from Nicole Maric-Haviland, daughter of Suzanne Lalique-Haviland and granddaughter of René Lalique

René Lalique’s figural training came from the prestigious École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs. Starting in 1877, School Director Louvrier de Lajolais instituted Friday Figure Drawing.