The Musée des Arts Décoratifs will be present in Paris from October 21, 2021, to February 20, 2022, under the theme “Cartier and the Arts of Islam. At the Sources of Modernity “, showing a collection of Islamic art assembled by Louis Cartier at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Cartier has long been nicknamed “The Jeweler of Kings”, and often “The King of Jewelers”. When Louis-François Cartier founded his jewelry house in 1847, he was still only a seller of jewelry, works of art, and old pieces, before he became the official art supplier to the European courts of the Shah of Iran and the Maharajahs. He had an eye for unearthing rare works and a network of suppliers who reserved their most exclusive acquisitions for him. It was not until the end of the 19th Century and the entry into the family business of Louis, the grandson of Louis-François, that would see Cartier found his workshops and create his own jewelry. The house was already rich, with a private collection that formed the basis of its DNA, and Louis was constantly on the lookout for new inspiration.

Universal Exhibitions

The dawning of the Twentieth Century was a time when France was cradled with dreams of the Orient. From the Maghreb to the Mashreq, and beyond the Mediterranean countries of the West and the Levant, through Persia and to the borders of India, travelers and merchants brought back tangible and intangible treasure. The Orient was exoticism, new shapes, materials, lights, and colors, but it was also the distant, the unknown, the evocation of atmospheres tinged with adventure and sensuality. 

The Universal Exhibitions of Paris opened a window on these mysteries. That of 1889 hosted the pavilions of Persia and Morocco. The 1900 edition featured a “Palace of Egypt,” and a pavilion of the Ottoman Empire adorned with damask carpets and objects. The Decorative Arts Museum organized an exhibition of Islamic art, and Louis Cartier went there as a discerning amateur. Its collection of Islamic art includes hundreds of rare pieces, of which the jewelry house keeps at least 500 pieces, split between Indian and Iranian jewelry, inlaid boxes, drawings, books, and photographs.







Geometric compositions

Islamic art seduced the diverse society of neo-baroque Europe in the 1900s, the inhabitants of this Belle Epoque still charmed by meringues and rococo garlands. Abstract geometry and inlays caught the eye, along with moldings and floral motifs galore. In the jewelry field, the blues of zelliges, lapis lazuli, and turquoise fascinated with their shades of saturated ozone and inaccessible horizon. Famous for its production of garland-style jewelry, the Maison Cartier developed, as early as 1904, pieces inspired by geometric compositions from the arts of Islam discovered through books on ornaments and architecture as early as 1904. 

The First World War pushed even more travelers away from old Europe. A new World’s Fair in 1925 showed a radical change from the naive aesthetics of the turn of the century. Art Deco, which owes a lot to Islamic art, imposed itself, with its powerful styles and its massive, smooth, almost minimalist forms.

Source of Inspiration

The influence of the Islamic arts on jewelry production and precious objects from Cartier’s private collection, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, will be clear to see at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris. The exhibition is co-produced by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and the Dallas Museum of Art, with the exceptional collaboration of the Louvre and the support of the Maison Cartier. 

Through a thematic and chronological journey divided into two parts, the exhibition traces, in its first part, the origin of the interest in the arts and architecture of Islam through the Parisian cultural context of the early 20th Century and explores the creative climate around designers and workshops, in search of their sources of inspiration. The second part illustrates the repertoire of forms inspired by the arts of Islam from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day.

It continues with Jacques Cartier’s trips, especially to India, in 1911, to meet the princes of the peninsula. This trade of precious stones and pearls was Jacques Cartier’s gateway to the country. It allowed him to develop the Maharajahs’ clientele and collect ancient and contemporary jewelry, resell them as he found them, be inspired by them, or recompose them into new creations.

The second part of the exhibition, in the south gallery, is entirely devoted  to the repertoire of forms inspired by the arts of Islam, notably through works from the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Louvre museum. An exciting dive into the exchange of influences and the strength of collective intelligence, this is an exhibition not to be missed.