Cartier et les Arts de l’Islam

This exhibition shows the influence of Islamic art and architecture  on the Maison Cartier designs of jewellery and precious objects from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.

The exhibition explores the origins of this influence through the Parisian cultural context and the figure of Louis and Jacques Cartier, two of the founder’s grandsons, who played a major role in creating this new aesthetic suffused with modernity.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Louis Cartier sought new inspiration. At the time Paris was the epicenter of the Islamic art trade and it was undoubtedly through major exhibitions organized at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1903 and then in Munich in 1910, that Louis enthusiastically discovered these new shapes which were gradually spreading throughout French society.

The deep and genuine enthusiasm for Islamic art, one of the keys to their success, opened multiple doors: while his brother Jacques, predestined to be an explorer, traveled to India and the Persian Gulf in 1911- 1912 to form relationships with the pearl merchants of Bahrain Island, Louis, relying on his sharp eye and keen sense of taste, was amassing a collection that would become one of the most remarkable of its kind in the twentieth century.

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.

Photo: A 1924 Cartier Vanity case inspired by a 19th-century Iranian wood box. NILS HERRMANN / (C) CARTIER / COURTESY OF MUSÉE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS

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, bazu bands (an elongated bracelet worn on the upper arm) came in a wide range of shapes, colors and materials to suit the fashions of the time.

The patterns and shapes from Islamic art and architecture, sometimes easily identifiable, at other times broken down and redesigned to make their source untraceable, became an integral part of the stylistic vocabulary of the designers.

The exhibition, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and co-organized by the Musée du Louvre, Paris and the Dallas Museum of Art is on from October 21st, 2021 to February 20th, 2022.