History Revived: The Craftsmanship of Eugène Fontenay

Why are people drawn to collections and collecting? Whether born out of curiosity, aesthetic appreciation or financial investment, every collection ultimately reflects a story which is inextricably enmeshed with each collector’s unique identity. In the world of jewellery collecting, the most personal of collecting spheres, the genesis that gives rise to any captivating, enlightening, inspiring collection is most likely found in that one single, long coveted, achingly desired piece.

Featured in the June Fine Jewels & Timepieces auction is the Property of a Melbourne Collector, featuring a magnificent assembly of pieces, each with historical and academic significance. A plique-a-jour enamel brooch by Art Nouveau exponent Philippe Wolfers, a Persian inspired pearl, diamond, and enamel pendant by Lucien Felize, and a finely crafted naturalistic bracelet and brooch by Jules Wièse are just a few of the exceptional pieces presented.

A Rare Art Nouveau
Gold, Enamel and Gem-set Pendant Brooch, Philippe Wolfers, Circa 1900

The collection is led by an archeological revival demi-parure attributed to master 19th Century goldsmith Eugène Fontenay. Working in France in the mid to late 1800s, Fontenay was one of the most technically accomplished French goldsmiths of the period, revered for superb craftsmanship and unique enamel work. Inspired by the discoveries of Roman, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Etruscan excavations in Europe during the 18th and 19th Centuries, this suite reflects a wider societal interest in classical prototypes. Ancient Egypt was of particular fascination, and interest in the culture skyrocketed so quickly that it led to the coining of the term “Egyptomania”.

The strong societal interest in archeology was naturally reflected in the arts, with the arrival of the Campana Collection of ancient jewellery purchased by Napoleon III in 1860, strongly influencing jewellery trends. The period became characterised by fine granulation, filigree decorations and intricate enamel detail. Much like his contemporaries, Eugène Fontenay utilised enameling to great effect.

Examples of Fontenay’s work can be found in the permanent collections of some of the most significant museums in the world including The British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Art Museum. With so many of Fontenay’s works being deservingly held in museum collections, collectors and connoisseurs continue to clamour for rare examples to contribute to their personal collections.

This collection, along with the entire catalogue of
items included in the Fine Jewels & Timepieces auction, will be exhibited in Melbourne and Sydney, with selected pieces also viewing in Brisbane, ahead of the auction on June 7th.

BETHANY MCGOUGAN / Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces

May 2021