S otheby’s is honoured to present the collection of a lifetime, assembled by Claude Henri Roger Sorbac, centered on the designs of René Lalique.
This collection explores the work of René Lalique, an Avant-garde artist designer who worked in a variety of fields: jewellery, goldsmithery, illustration, sculpture, and of course glassware. Lalique pioneered the use of innovative materials such as glass, tortoiseshell, ivory and horn, as well as metals such as aluminium, bronze and copper, combined with other rarer materials such as diamond, precious stones and gold. By combining these materials with unprecedented or reclaimed creative techniques, he brought an exquisite beauty to these objects.
René Lalique | The Best in Luxury Art Deco Design
Claude Henri Roger Sorbac was born in Paris in April 1921. His father Roger was a banker and collector. His mother Françoise was a decorator for a great post-war Parisian house. He therefore grew up surrounded by collections and art objects. His grandparents, Jules Strauss and Marie-Louise Kahn, aesthetes and art lovers, dedicated their lives to collecting paintings and objects. Their keen eye enabled them to distinguish the greatest works by Impressionist painters such as Renoir, Sisley and Degas. Soon enough they sold them and extended their collection to classical masters such as Largillierre and Tiepolo. This was the lineage of collectors that raised Claude.
He studied at HEC Paris Engineering school but had to leave because of his enrolment in Compulsory Work Service (STO). His father was arrested by the Nazis during the “roundup of notables” and was deported to Auschwitz. At the age of 22, Claude Henri Roger Sorbac joined the 1st Moroccan Spahi Regiment and participated in the Liberation of Paris as part of the 2nd Armored Division.
In 1945, once the war was over Claude Henri Roger Sorbac set out as an entrepreneur and founded several businesses. At that same time, he began collecting antiques. His network of friends in Europe and the United States led him to take an interest in Art Nouveau and its principal representatives, such as Gallé, Daum, Mucha, Majorelle, and Lalique.
Gradually his attention became more insightful on René Lalique, and he acquired a few admirable examples of the designer’s works by persistently attending flea markets and auctions in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil and France… He thus upheld the family tradition of collecting which began with his maternal grandfather, Jules Strauss, and carried on by his father Roger.
In 1985, he left Argentina. Driven by the desire to learn more about the field of art, which greatly interested him, he gathered a large amount of documentation and assimilated it in record time. He dedicated a great amount of his time to studying the work of René Lalique, identifying and collecting the designer’s works, and quickly rising in the ranks of Lalique experts and dealers. Indeed, Claude Henri Roger Sorbac was captivated by how the talents of René Lalique were reflected in his prolific creation, and his collection continued to grow.
In fact, he decided to sell some of his glassware to purchase more narrowly targeted works demonstrating Lalique’s expertise, his many sources of inspiration, and his collaboration with artists and creators such as Sarah Bernhardt and Edmond Rostand.
These works were featured in several great exhibitions throughout the world and are mentioned in a number of books and catalogues.
Flora and fauna have always been a source of inspiration in jewellery. From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, Art Nouveau inspired a more stylistic view in creators, and objects took on the form of flowers or animals.
René Lalique was raised in the countryside of Champagne, and always admired the fauna and flora of his homeland. In his studio on rue Thérèse, he constantly surrounded himself with an abundance of flowers, often sketching them, compiling an extremely extensive repertory upon which he drew for his designs.
The new contribution of Lalique was his use of the themes of fauna and flora seen through the prism of the symbolism used in the painting and literature of his time, such as Les Fleurs du mal by Baudelaire. Lalique’s flowers are both beautiful and dangerous, while snakes, butterflies and dragonflies hover around the female figures. This symbolism attracted new artists and intellectuals such as Sarah Bernhardt.
Lalique was passionate about the female figure, both in his work and in his private life.
He left his first wife – Marie-Louise Lambert – for a woman named Augustine Ledru, known as Alice, with whom he fell hopelessly in love. Lalique created jewellery specifically for Alice, who became his muse and model. Moreover, he inserted representations of her bust and nude body into his creations.
Sarah Bernhardt was another muse of his. He designed diadems and jewellery sets for her personal use and for the characters that she interpreted in theatre. Her profile appears in a number of his jewellery pieces. Claude Henri Roger Sorbac studied this theme for many years, being himself a great admirer of the female figure.
Women in René Lalique’s creations reveal themselves gentle yet fatale, tragic yet entrancing; metamorphosing into female sphinxes or mermaids surrounded by ivy or insects, reflecting the work of Symbolist artists such as Gustave Moreau.
The Symbolist movement appeared in European art in the late 19th century as a reaction to Naturalism. Attention turned from representing the world as it is to an expression through the prism of ideas or symbols. These artists summon viewers to decode the messages expressed through their works according to the emotions that they feel when they see the piece. René Lalique applied this approach to jewellery design. His goal was to create unprecedented pieces in terms of jewellery design. To achieve this, he used new materials, which he mingled with innovative techniques and others inspired by the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Unlike the jewellery of other designers, René Lalique’s designs are not just ornaments. They are structured around an artistic idea that expresses sensations or feelings. They are also inspired by Japonism and its flamboyant symbols, such as bats, dragons, cockerels and snakes; and motifs from his own creative repertory, mingled with romantic, symbolic and mythological accents.
The creative and artistic genius of René Lalique, as well as his mastery of various creative techniques, attracted the attention of a number of artists.
After training as a draughtsman, René Lalique took sculpting lessons in 1882 at a workshop in Paris, developing studies in wax or plaster that would go on to be executed in horn, ivory or metal. His father-in-law, Auguste Ledru – a friend of Rodin – introduced him to the world of sculpture. It's clear from 1891 correspondence between Rodin and Lalique that the latter requested advice on the proportions for his jewellery designs. Lalique's skill was recognized by his peers during his lifetime. The writer Robert de Montesquiou described him as the "Parisian Cellini", alluding to the Florentine goldsmith who enchanted the royal court of Francis I of France; and the artist Emile Gallé, founder of the School of Nancy, awarded him the considerable status of "inventor of modern jewellery".
Sarah Bernhardt introduced René Lalique to the world of theatre and literature in 1894 by ordering jewellery from him for the costume of her character Gismonda. Lalique became part of her inner circle, and by wearing his designs on the stage and in town, she directly promoted his talents.