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Jellyfish (La Méduse) (Brooch), 1967, Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907-1987, Designer), Tiffany and Company (American, founded 1837, Manufacturer), 18 karat gold, platinum, moonstone, diamond, sapphire, 3 × 2 3/4 × 3/4 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon (Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) 

RICHMOND, VA.- Finding inspiration for his work in nature, the French-born designer Jean Schlumberger (1907–1987) created jewelry and accessories that transformed 20th-century fashion. The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, an exclusive new exhibition on view at VMFA from February 10 to June 18, 2017, showcases a broad representation of jewelry and decorative objects from this innovative designer. Admission is free. 

Artist-jeweler Schlumberger (zhahn SCHLUM-ber-zhay) transformed 20th-century fashion with his creative designs for highly sculptural, vibrant and whimsical jewelry and accessories. He began his career crafting costume jewelry for the French surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1930s Paris, before heading his own private salon at New York’s Tiffany & Co. beginning in the 1950s. Schlumberger was known for his imaginative interpretations of animal and botanical subjects that came to define mid-20th century chic. His witty designs for objects ranging from cigarette cases and pill boxes to brooches, necklaces, and bracelets were popular with some of the most celebrated and stylish women of the period. 

With 142 pieces, the exhibition celebrates the generosity of Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon (1910-2014), a noted horticulturalist, philanthropist, and longtime VMFA supporter. With husband Paul Mellon, Mrs. Mellon, who was his second wife, also gave an important collection of French art, including important nuclei of works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre Bonnard, among many others. Paul Mellon also donated a large part of his pre-eminent collections of British and American art. These collections – displayed in a wing purposely built to house them in 1985 – are considered among the finest in North America. With Mrs. Mellon’s extraordinary gift in 2014, VMFA now preserves the largest and most comprehensive public collection of jewelry and art objects by Schlumberger. 

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Flower Pot, Jean Schlumberger, French, 1907 – 1987, 1960, amethyst, emeralds, diamonds, black garnet ore, terracotta and 18-, 20- and 22-karat gold, Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

This unparalleled collection of Jean Schlumberger’s iconic jewelry, accessories, and other decorative objects was given to VMFA by Rachel Lambert Mellon, one of the most generous donors in our history,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director. “These extraordinary works – with their vibrant colors, exquisite craftsmanship, and natural inspirations – showcase Schlumberger’s dazzling imagination and clarity of vision.” 

Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, curated the exhibition with Kristie Couser, Curatorial Associate for the Mellon Collections. The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger is presented exclusively at VMFA and features many works on public display for the first time. “The works of art that debut here collectively reveal the dedication to perfection and beauty that united the artist and his great friend and patron,” Merling said. 

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Butterflies (Bracelet), 1956, Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907-1987, Designer), Tiffany and Company (American, founded 1837, Manufacturer), 18 karat gold, platinum, amethyst, sapphires, turquoise, peridots, yellow diamonds, diamonds, colored stones, 1 1/2 × 7 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon (Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) 

Jean Schlumberger 
Born in Mulhouse, France, in 1907, Schlumberger demonstrated an early talent for drawing, but received no formal training as an artist or jeweler. After stints in banking and art reproduction, he created his first brooches from porcelain flowers found at Paris flea markets, which caught the eye of surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Schlumberger made his way to New York in 1940, briefly opening a small jewelry store there with childhood friend Nicolas Bongard, a trained jeweler. Around 1942, he returned to Europe to help the Allied war effort. Following World War II, he and Bongard opened a shop in a townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side, where Schlumberger first met Mrs. Mellon in 1954. 

In 1956, Schlumberger joined Tiffany & Co. as a signature designer, and he and Bongard were appointed vice presidents of an independent department within Tiffany’s signature Fifth Avenue store. Schlumberger enjoyed total creative control over his designs, with Tiffany & Co. also permitting him to maintain an independent shop in Paris while creating exclusive works for their Manhattan flagship store. His reputation quickly grew among Hollywood stars, fashion experts, and other influential style icons from both sides of the Atlantic—many of whom counted among his closest friends. His clients included Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (later the Duchess of Kent),Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, Gloria Guinness, Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, and Mrs. Mellon. 

In 1958, Schlumberger became the first jewelry designer to receive the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award, and in 1977, the French government made him a Chevalier of the National Order of Merit. In 1986, one year before his death, Tiffany & Co. mounted a retrospective exhibition to honor his 30th anniversary with the firm.

 

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Rock Crystal Obelisk, Jean Schlumberger, French, 1907 – 1987, 1970-71, rock crystal, 18-karat gold, and enamel, Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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 Dot Losange Bangles, designed 1960, made late 20th century, Paillonné enamel, 18-karat gold, Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 

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Jasmine (Breath of Spring) (necklace), Jean Schlumberger, French, 1907 – 1987 (Designer), Tiffany and Company, American, founded 1837 (Manufacturer), 1966, model 1962, 18 karat gold, platinum, colored sapphire and diamond, Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. (Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) 

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Bird on a Rock, Brooch, 1965, Jean Schlumberger, Tiffany and Co. 18-karat gold, platinum, lapis lazuli, colored and white diamonds. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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Pisces (Poissons), Brooch, ca. 1965, Jean Schlumberger, Tiffany and Co. Diamonds, emeralds, paillonné enamel, 18-karat gold, platinum. Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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Pectoral Cross, 1960, Jean Schlumberger (French, 1907-1987), emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines, diamonds, 18 -karat gold 5 1/2 x 3 3/4 x 1 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon (Photo by Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Object © The Estate of Jean Schlumberger).

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This necklace is part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund

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This centerpiece made of black lacquer, enamel and 18-karat gold is part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017Photo Alexa Welch Edlund

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These bracelets are part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017. They are displayed on a bed of river rock. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund 

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These bracelets and earrings with Paillonné enamelling are part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Thursday, February 2, 2017. They are displayed on a bed of river rock. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund 

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This piece of jewelry is part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund 

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This is one of the pieces on display in the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund.

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This bracelet and necklace are part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017Photo Alexa Welch Edlund.

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 This piece of jewelry is part of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts photographed Thursday, February 2, 2017. Photo Alexa Welch Edlund.