FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF PRINCE ALEXANDRE MURAT
International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961 at the Goldsmiths Hall for the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1961.
Cf: Diana Scarisbrick, Chaumet, Master Jeweller since 1870, Paris, 1995, page 256 for an illustration of this tiara.
Cf: John Traina, Extraordinary Jewels, New York, 1994.
Cf: Graham Hughes, Modern Jewellery, New York, 1968.
THE MURAT TIARA
by Diana Scarisbrick
Created in 1920 by the famous Parisian jeweller, Joseph Chaumet, for the marriage of Prince Alexandre Murat (1889-1926) with Yvonne Gillois (1894-1961), this impressive tiara is an uncompromising statement of family pride. Prince Alexandre, through his ancestor, the dashing Joachim Murat (1767-1815), married to Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, was associated with one of the most glorious periods of French history. The heroic cavalry charges of Joachim Murat, an inn-keeper's son from Gascony, contributed to the victories of Iéna, Eylau and Austerlitz and from 1808-1814 he and Caroline were popular rulers of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. This brilliant military and political career ended tragically with his execution in Pizzo in Calabria at the age of 48. In his last moments he wrote a touching farewell letter to his children who never forgot him. Thereafter his memory was venerated by every generation of his descendants and by none more so than the father of Prince Alexandre, His Imperial Highness Prince Joachim (1856-1932), married to Cécile d'Elchingen the great grand-daughter of another hero, Marshal Ney, considered "the bravest of the brave" by Napoleon.
In recognition of their joint descent from Caroline Bonaparte, Joachim Murat, Marshal Ney and from Marshal Berthier, Prince de Wagram, the young couple were regarded as the leaders of Imperial society in Paris. Moreover, as Cécile had inherited a huge fortune from her adopted grandmother, Madame Furtado-Heine, they had the means to live in great state. From 1897 they resided at 28, rue de Monceau , described by Marcel Proust in 1907 as "the most magnificent house in Paris". Built in the massive Second Empire "Boussardel" style, it was designed for entertaining in the grand manner. Concerts and plays were held in the white and gold Louis XVI style ball room, 40 metres long, and when the adjoining salons were opened up, as many as 1800 guests might be entertained on the ground floor. For summer evening parties the extensive gardens were lit up and dancers and musicians performed in exotic costumes. Led by the inimitable major-domo, Joseph, the staff of 26 cooked and served dinners for 15, 30 or 48 people, - the Kings of England, Spain, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, the Grand Dukes and Duchesses of Russia, the international aristocracy, statesmen, ambassadors, bankers, financiers, -the men in white tie and tails, the women in evening gowns glittering with jewels. The setting for these events was a wonderful museum, full of 18th century furniture, porcelain, tapestries, old master paintings, especially from 17th century Holland. Everywhere the glories of French history were evoked. From the First Empire there were portraits of Joachim, magnificent on horseback, of Caroline and their children by Baron Gérard, of Napoleon by Ingres, and the collection of Napoleonic souvenirs brought back from St. Helena, by Marchand, the Emperor's faithful valet. A portrait by Alfred de Dreux recalled the family relationship with Napoleon III, others depicted the Empress Eugénie, who had inaugurated the house in 1856 and remained a great friend, and of her only son, the Prince Imperial, killed by Zulu warriors in 1879. Leading contemporary artists of the Belle Epoque- Helleu, Flameng and Boldini- were represented by paintings of Prince Joachim, Princess Cécile and their children, one of whom, Prince Louis, was killed in the battle of the Marne in 1916. While Prince Joachim, a renowned sportsman, imposed on account of his strong personality, Princess Cécile with her slightly distant, intimidating manner and distinguished looks, was known as "la Reine de Naples", as if she were Caroline, born again.
When Yvonne Gillois, from a family with strong Napoleonic and horse racing connections, married Prince Alexandre, some things had changed in French society as a result of World War 1, but not the custom of providing the women of the upper classes with valuable jewels on marriage, which continued strong. There were various reasons for this. First, the lessons of national history since 1789 suggested that it might be a good idea to own expensive objects, easy to take with one if obliged to leave in a hurry owing to revolution or war.Secondly, although fashion in dress had changed dramatically since the Belle Époque, the new short hair and the sleeveless, tubular dresses of Chanel and Lelong cried out for luxury, and Vogue (1921) asserted "there is no doubt but that brilliant jewellery is an absolute necessity to the modern mode". Thirdly, there were many occasions when jewels could be worn by the women of the Murat clan, and not only at 28, rue de Monceau where Princess Cécile continued to entertain almost until her death aged 93 years old in 1960, when the house was demolished. Indefatigable, every year between the two wars she organised a charity ball at the Opéra, each on a different theme, making it the occasion of displays of French elegance, showcasing the latest creations of the couture houses and the jewellers of Place Vendome and the rue de la Paix.
Since Chaumet had supplied jewels for the marriage of Prince Joachim with Princess Cécile in 1884, and for the marriages of their other children, Prince Alexandre ordered this tiara -and another- for Yvonne with their wedding rings and commemorative medal, pearls, necklace, brooches, emerald and diamond watch and souvenirs for friends and witnesses, from Joseph Chaumet. As all these purchases are recorded in precise detail, it is quite clear from the Chaumet ledger for September 3rd, 1920, that the Murat family supplied the wonderful pearls and almost all the diamonds employed in the making of this tiara. It might seem strange that at a time of heavy taxation, when the monarchies of Germany and Austria had been abolished and when democracy was on the rise, that the tiara was not considered obsolete. However, Vogue (1920) affirmed that for a bride it was "no less important than our mother's time", and again the following year declared that "after the engagement ring the tiara is the most thrilling topic of conversation not only in the mounting but in the choice of stones which depend on the type of woman". Chaumet's designs fell into two categories: romantic traditional and contemporary chic. Following the example of Hedwige de La Rochefoucauld on her marriage with Prince Sixte of Bourbon Parme in 1919, Prince Alexandre and Yvonne also chose a new tiara of traditional, royal style. As part of the ritual of a French society marriage she would have been encouraged by Chaumet to try on all the "maillechort" tiara models displayed in a special room in the shop at Place Vendome before deciding on the design which suited her face and figure best. In addition, her choice of majestic classical diamond acanthus foliage framing three huge pearls was a clear statement of her rank as Princess Murat, daughter-in-law of the first lady of the Parisian Empire world. To give extra height and dignity the tiara could be worn above a bandeau, also executed in pearls and diamonds, which could also be placed low on the brow, "a la Joséphine" emphasising the eyes and the oval of the face. Whether the two ornaments were worn together or separately- depending on the importance of the event- the brilliance of the diamonds and the iridescent sheen of the pearls always caught the eye, and brought to mind the Murat history of which the family was so proud.
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