Chaumet Mounts Imperial Exhibition in Beijing’s Forbidden City


( A half century after the beginning of a Cultural Revolution dedicated to erasing all traces of its past splendor, China is the setting of a museum show spotlighting the influence of its imperial arts on Western creativity.




Napoleon’s Coronation Sword is among the imperial arts on view in the Chaumet exhibition through July 2 in Beijing. 

Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

“Imperial Splendors: The Art of Jewelry Since the 18th Century,” organized by the French heritage brand Chaumet, is on view to July 2 at the Palace Museum in the heart of the Forbidden City, official residence of China’s emperors for almost 500 years. It is unusual for a Western brand to mount an exhibition in that space.


Heading to the Chaumet exhibition “Imperial Splendors: The Art of Jewelry Since the 18th Century,” in the Forbidden City. 

Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

“We are honored to be in such a symbolic and historic site to present a collection that will likely never be shown together as one again,” Jean-Marc Mansvelt, president of Chaumet, said in an interview.

The East-West dialogue is reflected in the approximately 300 pieces of jewelry, paintings, silverware, jade and other artifacts created in France during the First and Second Empires and in China under the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) and now displayed in the museum’s Wumen gallery. The exhibits were assembled from 17 museums, including the Palace Museum itself, the Victoria & Albert in London, the Louvre and Chaumet’s heritage museum in Paris, and from private lenders, including Princess Caroline of Hanover, whose Reed Brooch (1893) in gold and diamonds, is rarely seen.


A brooch in the shape of a peacock feather, of gold, silver, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. The piece was made in 1870 by Prosper Morel at Chaumet. 

Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Chaumet’s creations in the show range from the ceremonial to the intimate. The Coronation Sword, on loan from the museum of the Palace of Fontainebleau, France, was commissioned by Napoleon for his 1804 coronation from Marie-Étienne Nitot, the jewelry house’s founder. It also made pieces like a trefoil brooch, which Napoleon II commissioned as a sentimental symbol of his commitment to Eugénie de Montijo in 1852, a year before they were officially engaged.

Henri Loyrette, former president of both the Louvre and Orsay Museums in Paris and an authority on 19th-century art, lent his curatorial expertise to the exhibition.


Part of the Chaumet exhibition in the Forbidden City is this display of jewelry inspired by the theme of nature.

Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

“China’s influence on the arts in France can be traced to the 18th century with what we call ‘chinoiseries,’” Mr. Loyrette said in an interview, referring to Western-made objects inspired by the Far East. “By the mid-19th century, with the world fairs in Europe, France went looking for exotic sources of inspiration, namely China.”

Exhibits from the Palace Museum collection exemplify some of those inspirations. A number of silver and gold objects, and pearl and jade jewelry, such as a Tianzi headpiece decorated with carved jadeite and pearls worn by Manchu women in the Qing dynasty, display aesthetics that are echoed in carved jade pendants and brooches produced by Chaumet in the 1920s, including a veil pin of platinum and baroque pearls made in 1921 for Eva Gebhard, Baroness Gourgaud.

For historians and lovers of jewelry, organizers say the show is a rare chance to view pieces seldom put on public display.

For Mr. Loyrette — who also oversaw “Chaumet: Parisian Jeweler Since 1780,” to be published in English by Rizzoli in September — the exhibition was intended, at least in part, to bestow overdue credit on the art of jewelry-making. “In the history of decorative arts, the focus has too often been on the value of stones rather than the work of the craftsmen,” Mr. Loyrette said. “We wanted to give jewelry its proper place in the history of arts by showing that jewelry, like art, has been influenced by world history and cultures.”




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