Thanks to the late Bunny Mellon and her husband, the largest collection of Jean Schlumberger jewellery in the world is now on show at the VMFA.
Open 365 days a year, 10am-5pm; Thursday and Friday until 9pm.
The heiress and philanthropist Rachel Lambert Mellon, known affectionately as "Bunny", was an avid collector of beautiful things, be it furniture, art, precious objets or jewels. A renowned 20th-century tastemaker, her collection of jewels, one of her greatest passions, was extraordinary and included important gems, period pieces from the big Maisons and highly personal jewels from some of the leading designers of the time, including Jean Schlumberger, the subject of this expansive exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA).
The artist-jeweller Schlumberger began his career creating costume jewellery for the French surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s before he was recruited by Tiffany & Co. By the late 1950s he had his own private salon at Tiffany's flagship boutique in New York, where his whimsical, nature-inspired jewels attracted Hollywood stars, fashion editors and style icons, including Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, and Mrs Mellon. He quickly became one of the most celebrated designers of the 20th century.
A noted horticulturalist, Mellon shared Schlumberger's passion for botanical subjects and through this, the pair became good friends. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Flower Pot (196), which Schlumberger created especially for Mellon. Featuring a lifelike sunflower, with a removable amethyst at its heart, the leaves are decorated with emeralds and the detail is incredible, right down to the soil in the pot, recreated in black garnet ore.
The exhibition is divided into a series of galleries, with each room focussed on a theme. Highlights include Underwater Fantasies, a source of great inspiration to Schlumberger. A key piece in the exhibition is the iconic Jellyfish brooch, set with moonstones that give off a similar iridescent glow to the aquatic creature. In the A Passion for the Garden room, alongside the Flower Pot, you will find two signature Butterflies bracelets and the exquisite Jasmine necklace, set with 18 coloured sapphires in spring-like shades.
Many of the works on display, given to the VMFA by Mrs Mellon and her husband Paul, who also bequeathed an important collection of French art to the museum, have never been exhibited in public before. "The works of art that debut here collectively reveal the dedication to perfection and beauty that united the artist and his great friend and patron," says Dr Mitchell Merling, curator of the show.
"This unparalleled collection of Jean Schlumberger's iconic jewellery, accessories and other decorative objects was given to VMFA by Rachel Lambert Mellon, one of the most generous donors in our history," says Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director. "These extraordinary works - with their vibrant colours, exquisite craftsmanship and natural inspirations - showcase Schlumberger's dazzling imagination and clarity of vision."
Admission to the exhibition is free.