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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.”