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Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity

The jewellery house Cartier may be known for its Parisian roots, but it has long sought inspiration far beyond France. The stylistic impact of one such influence is chronicled in a new exhibition in Paris Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity, co-organized by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and the Dallas Museum of Art, with the collaboration of the Musée du Louvre and the support of Cartier.

10. Vanity case — Cartier Paris, 1924 Gold, platinum, mother-of- pearl, turquoise, emeralds, pearls, diamonds, enamel Nils Herrmann Cartier Collection © Cartier


This exhibition shows the influence of Islamic Art on the high jewellery Maison Cartier in its design of jewellery and precious objects from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. More than 500 pieces including jewellery and objects from the Cartier Collection, private and public loans, masterpieces of Islamic art, drawings, books, photographs and archival documents, trace the origins of the jeweller’s interest in Oriental motifs.

Portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah — Attributed to Mihr ‘Ali Iran, 1800-1806 , Oil on canvas Musée du Louvre, Paris, département des Arts de l’Islam On loan from the Château-Domaine national de Versailles Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski


Pendant — Cartier Paris, special order, 1902 Gold, silver, diamonds Formerly in Jane Hading collection Vincent Wulveryck Cartier Collection © Cartier


Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity came about when the Louvre acquired a late-16th-century Mughal pen case that was once part of Louis Cartier’s art collection. Carved out of walrus ivory and encrusted with gold, turquoise and silk, the object gave birth to the idea that a large portion of Cartier’s productions bore the influence of Islamic art and architecture.

“Our entire [four-year] preparatory work was about proving the contribution of these arts, through their motifs or colors, to the Cartier aesthetic,” said Judith Henon-Raynaud, head curator of patrimony and assistant to the director of the Islamic Arts department of the Louvre.

Pen box said to have belonged to “Mirza Muhammad Munshi” — Deccan, India, late 16th- early 17th century Carved walrus ivory, engraved and inlaid with gold, turquoise, black paste, and silk Ink well: copper alloy, gold leaf, and turquoise Musée du Louvre, Paris, département des Arts de l’Islam © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski


For the first time, light is shined on the design process of one of the world’s most renowned jewellers. The archives, design drawings, and photographic collections have made it possible to trace the original source of many Cartier designs, allowing us to understand the huge impact that the discovery of Islamic art had on the House of Cartier at the start of the 20th century. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs paved the way for this specific research with the exhibition ‘Purs décors ? Arts de l’islam, regards du xixe siècle’ in 2007, and loaned its substantial collections of Islamic art to those of the Musée du Louvre to form the singular Department of Islamic Arts, inaugurated in 2012. Today, this research and understanding of jewellery has intensified thanks to the study of Cartier’s design history.

Cliquet pin — Cartier Paris, 1920 Platinum, onyx,

diamonds, sapphires, coral Vincent Wulveryck Cartier Collection © Cartier



Founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the House of Cartier initially specialised in selling jewellery and works of art. His son, Alfred, took over the management of the business in 1874, and his eldest son, Louis, later joined him in 1898. By that time, Cartier was designing its own jewellery, while continuing to resell antique pieces.Louis Cartier sought new inspiration.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris was a hub for trade in Islamic art. Thanks to major exhibitions organized at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1903 and then in Munich in 1910, Louis Cartier discovered these new shapes that gradually permeated French society.

Facing panel — Iran, Late 14th - 15th century Ceramic mosaic Musée du Louvre, Paris département des Arts de l’Islam, on loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. © 2010 Musée du Louvre / Raphaël Chipault


Proposal for a powder box — Cartier Paris Circa 1920 Graphite pencil, Indian ink and gouache on tracing paper Cartier Paris Archives © Cartier


The exhibition is organised as a themed chronological tour divided into two parts, the first of which explores the origins of this interest in Islamic art and architecture through the cultural backdrop of Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and reviews the creative context among designers and studios as they searched for sources of inspiration.

Tiara — Cartier London 1936 Platinum, diamonds, turquoise, Vincent Wulveryck Cartier Collection © Cartier


Court belt — India or Iran, 17th century, Silk, silver thread Musée du Louvre, Paris département des Arts de l’Islam © 2007 Musée du Louvre / Raphaël Chipault


The second part illustrates the lexicon of forms inspired by Islamic art, from the start of the 20th century to the present day. From the outset, visitors find themselves immersed in these shapes and motifs with three of Cartier’s iconic creations set against masterpieces of Islamic art. Along the North Gallery, you are invited, room after room, to explore the creative process and the initial sources of inspiration in jewellery design.

The books in Louis Cartier’s library and his collection of Islamic art were made available as resources for designers. Louis’ personal collection, reconstructed thanks to the archives of the House of Cartier, is represented here through several masterpieces reunited for the first time since the dispersion of his collection. Charles Jacqueau was an important and brilliant member of Cartier’s team of designers. A selection of his design drawings is presented here thanks to an exceptional loan from the Petit Palais, Fine Arts Museum of Paris.

Arabian no. 2 — Owen Jones Grammaire de l’ornement, pl. 32 Day and Son, Ltd., London, 1865. Cartier Paris Archives © Cartier


Button — India, 18th century Jade, gold, rubies, emeralds set in kundan Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris © MAD, Paris / Jean Tholance


The exhibition continues by exploring Jacques Cartier’s travels, including to India in 1911, where he met with Maharajahs of the subcontinent. The trading of gemstones and pearls offered Jacques Cartier a way into this country. It enabled him to build relationships with Maharajahs all the while collecting antique and contemporary jewellery, which he would either resell unchanged, use as inspiration, or dismantle for integration into new designs.

Hindu necklace — Cartier Paris, 1963 Platinum, gold, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies Made as a special order for Daisy Fellowes in 1936, altered at the request of her daughter, the Countess of Castéja, in 1963 Nils Herrmann Cartier Collection © Cartier


These different sources of inspiration, and the Oriental jewellery that enriched the House of Cartier’s collections, helped to redefine shapes as well as craftsmanship techniques. The head ornaments, tassels, bazubands (an elongated bracelet worn on the upper arm) came in a wide range of shapes, colours and materials to suit the fashions of the time. The flexibility of Indian jewellery led to technical innovation, new settings, and different methods of assembling pieces. Incorporating different parts of jewellery, fragments of Islamic works of art referred to as ‘apprêts,’ and the use of Oriental textiles to create bags and accessories, was also a hallmark of the House of Cartier in the early 20th century.

Bib necklace — Cartier Paris, commissioned in 1947 Gold, platinum, diamonds, amethysts, turquoise Commissioned by the Duke of Windsor for the Duchess of Windsor Nils Herrmann Cartier Collection © Cartier


The second part of the exhibition, in the South Gallery, is dedicated to the lexicon of forms inspired by Islamic art, particularly thanks to the collections belonging to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée du Louvre. Most of these works were displayed at the first-ever exhibitions devoted to Islamic art. They certainly would have been seen by the Cartier designers or known to them thanks to the publications kept in Louis Cartier’s library.

15th century, Ivory (elephant), copper alloy Exhibited at the Islamic Arts exhibition, Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1903 Musée du Louvre, Paris département des Arts de l’Islam © 2015

Musée du Louvre / Chipault- Soligny


Cigarette case Persian — Cartier Paris 1924 Gold, enamel, onyx Nils Herrmann Cartier Collection © Cartier

Pyxis — Sicily


Cartier’s production under the artistic direction of Louis Cartier is notable for the inspiration he took from the Persian world as well as the art of the book. The patterns which decorate bindings – the central medallion surrounded by fleurons and corner pieces – were sometimes reproduced exactly, but more often pulled apart and recreated to form a pattern whose source is indiscernible to the untrained eye. This is the case with mandorlas, palmettes, foliage, sequins, scrolls, scales, etc. Louis innovated with bold combinations of colours and materials, combining lapis lazuli and turquoise, matching the green of jade or emerald with the blue of lapis lazuli or sapphire to create his famous ‘peacock pattern.’

Studies of Arab art and Arab-style patterns After Jones, Grammaire de l’ornement Cartier Paris, c. 1910 Graphite and India ink on tracing paper Cartier Paris Archives © Cartier


Although famed for its ‘garland style’ jewellery, from 1904 onwards, Cartier began developing pieces inspired by the geometric patterns of Islamic art found in books about ornamentation and architecture. Enamelled brick decorations from Central Asia and stepped merlons, amongst others, form the basis of a precursory repertoire later described as ‘Art Deco’ - in reference to the ‘Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes’ in Paris in 1925, bringing Cartier into the modern world very early on.

Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity is an exciting dive into the exchange of influences and the strength of collective intelligence, this is an exhibition not to be missed.

“Cartier and the Arts of Islam – Aux sources de la modernité “ exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris until the 20 February 2022


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