T he Collection of Michelle Smith features work by many of the most important and influential design masters since the turn of the 20th Century, many of whom were groundbreaking, pioneering female designers. Browse below to learn more about the life and work of these important and unique artists.
Claude Lalanne (1925-2019)
Born in Paris in 1925, Claude Lalanne studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts and the École des Arts Décoratifs before gravitating toward sculpture and design. In 1952 she met François-Xavier Lalanne, her partner in life and in art. After marrying in the 1960s, the couple became known collectively as “Les Lalanne,” celebrated for their surreal, playful and dreamlike creations. Though they worked and exhibited side by side, each of them had a distinctive take. Claude looked to her garden and the botanical realm to conceive of pieces like the Choupatte and Structure Vegetale candelabra. In addition to molding and casting these bronze forms, she used an electroplating process that coated leaves and other objects with a thin layer of copper, freezing their natural beauty in time and achieving the most lifelike effect. Individually and in collaboration with François-Xavier, Claude imagined an entirely new universe of sculpture and furniture. Over the course of her decades-long career, she created fantastical works and jewelry and left her mark as one of the most significant designers of the 20th century.
Lucie Rie (1902-1995)
Born in Vienna in 1902, Lucie Rie first studied pottery at the Vienna School of Applied Arts in the 1920s where she was exposed to the pioneering style of the Wiener Werkstätte. Just as her career in ceramics began to blossom, Rie was forced to flee Vienna before the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938 and emigrated to London. There, Rie established a workshop and challenged the traditional practices that dominated ceramic craft, introducing her own modernist flare to the British studio movement. Through her inventive approach to single-fired slip glazes and intricate surface decoration, the ceramicist reinvented simple tableware forms. In doing so she firmly established her importance in the history of pottery and the elevation of pottery as a fine artform.
Olga de Amaral (b. 1932)
The pioneering work of fiber artist Olga de Amaral blurs the divide between siloed categories of fine art, craft and design. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, she studied weaving and textiles at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan before returning to her native city for a degree in architectural design. The combination of these experiences is evident in her highly sculptural tapestries. Concerned primarily with color and light, each work is a vivid composition of painted thread, often augmented with gold and silver leaf that lends a luminous, otherworldly quality to the material. Her design choices draw upon the rich history of pre-Hispanic art and indigenous traditions in Colombia, and her titles also evoke the country’s diverse natural landscape. While looking to the past for inspiration, Amaral’s woven works retain a distinctly modern aesthetic and proved instrumental to the development of post-war Latin American abstraction.
Clara Driscoll (1861-1944)
From the late 1880s until 1909, Clara Driscoll made a profound impact on the artistic output of Tiffany Studios, but her name has long been unknown and unappreciated. Born in Ohio, Driscoll sought out an education and career in design and furniture making. This drove her to New York City in 1888, where she studied at the Metropolitan Museum Art School and quickly found employment at the Tiffany Glass Company under Louis Comfort Tiffany. During her tenure with the company, Driscoll oversaw the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, a group of “Tiffany Girls” who hand-selected the glass to be used in windows, mosaics and shades. Like other Tiffany employees, Driscoll worked anonymously, with the important exception of submissions to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, which required the listing of individual designers at the firm. Thanks to this documentation and the discovery of her personal correspondence, Driscoll has since been rightfully credited with the design of several of Tiffany’s most iconic leaded glass lamp models, including the “Dragonfly” and “Poppy” shades, examples of which are in Smith’s collection.
Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983)
In the pantheon of master jewelers, Suzanne Belperron stands apart as one of the most innovative women jewelry designers of the 20th Century. Famously quoted saying “Mon style est ma signature,” Belperron insisted that the originality and uniqueness of her designs were so easily identifiable that it was not necessary for her to sign her creations. Trained under René Boivin, she eventually became the co-director of Maison Boivin, developing her talent via incredibly detailed gouache sketches which scholars now use as a window into her creative mind. Belperron’s innovative and non-traditional use of seemingly opposite materials and fascination with volume, geometry and color, enabled her to create truly exceptional pieces of wearable art. Often designing bespoke pieces to suit her clients, the elite list of patrons included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Begum Aga Khan, Nina Ricci and Elsa Schiapparelli to name but a few. The exquisite Gold and Gem-Set Clip-Brooch on offer exemplifies Belperron’s celebrated iconic style.
Maria Pergay (b. 1930)
Maria Pergay has become synonymous with excellence in stainless steel. Born in Romania in 1930, Pergay fled to France following the outbreak of World War II. After studies in costume and set design, she began her career as a store window designer and gradually designed her own collections of objects in silver and bronze. In the late 1960s, she started to experiment with stainless steel, creatively shaping it into original furniture forms that proved how elegant the industrial material could be. Her sculptural oeuvre, at once functional and decorative, solidified her stature in the male-dominated field of furniture design.
Line Vautrin (1913-1997)
French jewelry maker Line Vautrin was born into a family of foundry workers, and from a very young age found herself mastering the technical skills of metalworking. At the age of twenty-one, she designed her first collection, and by twenty-four exhibited at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. Executed mainly in bronze, Vautrin’s jewelry, accessories and small decorative objects provided escape from the bleak reality of World War II. Alongside a foundational knowledge of how best to manipulate metals to her designs, Vautrin developed an intellectual interest in alchemy and symbolism. Moving beyond traditional types of decoration, she created a unique visual language inspired by hieroglyphics, pictographs and mythology. The whimsical results led Vogue magazine to dub her “the poetess of metal.”