granite, gilt and patinated bronze, champlevé and plique à jour enamel, moulded glass, ceramic and ivory
24.5 x 82 x 62 cm (centrepiece) ; 38 x 44 x 42 cm (lights)
For centuries the peacock had been depicted in European art, usually as the attribute of the goddess Juno or a personification of Pride. In the later 19th century it began to be represented more frequently, not so much in the traditional contexts but rather as an embodiment of oriental exoticism. Such was its role in Whistler’s decoration of the Peacock Room for the Frederick Leyland House, executed in 1876. Regardless of any symbolic association, the peacock’s brilliant plumage offered the Art Nouveau jewellers an ideal subject to be rendered in their preferred materials of enamel and semi-prescious stones. René Lalique, variously representing the bird in its entirety or in detail, used it as a motif for a succession of pendants, combs, brooches and corsage ornaments.
Having established a glass workshop at Clairfontaine in 1898, René Lalique began to produce a wider range of objects, including such pieces as this surtout de table. In its creation Lalique has continued to follow his practice, initially applied to his jewellery designs, of working with diverse and sometimes unexpected combinations of materials. Moulded glass has been used for the cloud-shaped lampshades, around which plique à jour butterflies flutter; it appears again on the bases, to suggest the pools of water on which carved ivory lily flowers float. The two cast bronze peacocks have crests and tail feathers picked out in champlevé enamel, while the borders – formed as pine branches, another motif favoured by Lalique – support subsidiary lampshades of ceramic. These shades, which glow softly when illuminated, appear a matt green without light. Shortly after this table centre was exhibited in London, Lalique created another that incorporated the water and lily motif, now in the collection of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon. Later on, in 1920, he returned to the subject of peacocks for another surtout de table, in this instance made only of moulded and patinated glass.
Exhibited: London, 1903
Literature: Marcilhac 1989, p. 33, illustrated
Haydn Williams, Enamels of the World: 1700-2000 The Khalili Collections, London 2009, cat. 175, pp. 256–7.