Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt on their wedding day
The Collection of Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt exemplifes the exceptional taste of two of America’s most important patrons of early modern art. This extraordinary couple, whose lives are a testament to ingenuity, creativity, compassion and hard work, formed one of the most celebrated collections of late 19th and early 20th century European art.
Alexander Lewyt (1908-1988) was a visionary, inventor and entrepreneur from a young age. As a teenager the Manhattan-born son of an Austrian immigrant worked in his father’s metal trinket shop, where he invented the clip-on bow-tie. Inheriting the family business at age 18, Alex Lewyt continually expanded and diversifed, despite the Great Depression, adding clients including International Business Machines Inc., best known as IBM.
Lewyt’s most famous invention was his eponymous vacuum cleaner, a compact machine with no dust bag that was designed to operate without distorting television and radio reception. He also made popcorn poppers and air conditioners, as well as equipment for military use, landing a $16.7 million contract with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1950. By 1952 Lewyt was living part-time in France, where he began collecting art. His marriage to Elisabeth, who shared his passion for art, took place on December 31, 1953.
Born in Chartres, France nearly a century ago, Elisabeth Lewyt was known by some as ‘Saint Babette’ for her kindness and devotion to animals As modest as her late husband Alexander M. Lewyt was ebullient, Mrs. Lewyt was the more reserved partner as her husband accepted the French Legion of Honor for wartime service to France, founded a Museum of Household Implements, started a program to employ senior citizens in 1957, sold the Lewyt Corporation in 1973, and collected paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Bonnard, Renoir, and most famously, The Man With the Axe by Paul Gauguin. Many of the paintings were later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Known to her friends as Babette, Mrs. Lewyt championed organizations that followed a no-kill policy for strays and abandoned pets. She was instrumental in saving countless animals from euthanasia, both through her philanthropy and her hands-on work.
Sotheby’s is honored to be offering the works from the Collection of Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt in a series of sales this year.
JEWELS BY RENÉ BOIVIN
René Boivin, a goldsmith whose technical prowess for gem-setting and engraving was renowned throughout Paris, founded the House of Boivin in the 1890s. By striking out on his own, Boivin sought to be recognized as a full-fedged jeweler, known for his designs as well as his workmanship. Under the Maison Boivin name, René Boivin pushed the limits of what was considered “beautiful jewelry” using different metals and semi-precious stones to create daring new forms. When he died in 1917, his wife Jeanne took over, hiring a team of female designers who, under her tutelage, were responsible for creating some of the firm’s most innovative designs.
Suzanne Belperron was hired by Jeanne Boivin in 1921 as a young and relatively untested designer. Over the ten years that they worked together, Madame Boivin encouraged Belperron to be creative, pushing her to set trends rather than follow them. During this time Belperron experimented with organic forms and new materials, creating bold, sculptural jewelry that contrasted starkly with the linear designs of the Art Deco period. The freedom that Madame Boivin granted her designers allowed Belperron the confdence to create the modern designs that she became known for when she formed her own brand. Although Belperron famously exclaimed that “my style is my signature,” one could argue that her style owed its inspiration to the tutelage of Madame Boivin.
When Suzanne Belperron left the House of Boivin in 1931, Madame Boivin realized that the continued success of the brand would depend on its ability to consistently produce exciting, modern jewelry. Her new team of designers included her daughter Germaine and an artist named Juliette Moutard. Both women had an affnity for the naturalistic forms, and many of the foral, marine and animal jewels were designed by one of the two. Exemplary workmanship and sophisticated use of color characterized the whimsical designs that they created.
In the hands of another jeweler, a brooch designed as a Labrador retriever (lot 518) could seem overly precious; this example by Boivin manages to be both sophisticated and charming. No detail was spared designing this piece; the color combinations of the diamonds suggest the varying shades of the dog’s fur, the pads on the dog’s paws are fully executed and the tail even has the “feathering” of a well-groomed purebred. The pose and the dog’s expression evoke memories of “man’s best friend,” and the execution of the articulated body is flawless. It is characteristic of the Boivin style created by René and passed down by his wife to her protégées, beautiful and bold and imbued with a hint of playfulness and charm.