Of rectangular outline, the top and base set with panels of polished agate, the sides applied with blue and green guilloché
enamel bordered with white enamel, the push piece set with a cabochon sapphire, opening to reveal lidded powder and lipstick compartments with a hinged brush holder and detachable lipstick holder, a mirror, a notepad fitting and pencil, and a calling card clip, measuring approximately 89 x 64 x 19mm, signed Cartier, numbered, French assay and maker's marks.
The present vanity case is an excellent example of the influence that the Russian jewellers Fabergé had on Cartier in the opening years of the 20th century. Fabergé's enviable genius for objets d'art
was something that Cartier endeavoured to rival, and from around 1904-5, Pierre Cartier started visiting Russia, importing Russian objects for sale, and building up a network of Russian workshops and suppliers, some of which were also affiliated with Fabergé. By 1906, Cartier were making their own objects in the Russian taste, and exhibiting regularly at a rented premises in St Petersburg from 1907. The guilloché
enamel border on this vanity case is particularly illustrative of Cartier's efforts to absorb the fashionable Russian style. Fabergé's guilloché
, or engine-turned, enamel was a cornerstone of their aesthetic, painstakingly built up layer on layer to achieve a perfect combination of translucency and colour saturation, which shimmered when applied over a finely engraved metal ground. Their colour palette was astonishingly sophisticated, with as many as 144 distinct shades available. While Cartier's colour palette never reached this complexity, their combinations were attractive and distinctive, such as the blue/green combination bordered in white, as seen in the present lot. This fine work was made possible by the enamel workshop of Henri Lavabre, who was based on Rue Tinquetonne, and was employed exclusively by Cartier from 1906 to 1921. His maker's mark, the initials H.L flanking a four-leaf clover, can be seen stamped in multiple places across the interior of the present piece. This vanity case, with its delicate colour scheme and intricate workmanship, speaks of a highly refined aesthetic that was brutally cut short by the first world war and the Russian revolution. However, the influence of Russia on Cartier and European jewellery in general was far from over. The bold designs and bright colour schemes of the Ballets Russes
were already sowing the seeds of an entirely different aesthetic, which lead to some of Cartier's greatest works in the following decades.
Cf.: Judy Rudoe, Cartier 1900-1939, The British Museum, London, 1997, pg. 110 no.43, for an additional guilloché enamel vanity case made by Lavabre for Cartier Paris, dated 1907.
Hans Nadelhoffer, Cartier, London, 2007, pg. 114-113, for more information on Cartier's Russian-style jewels.