Par Jacqueline Mainguy
The Lalique Chapel. One of the most beautiful religious works of art from the mid 20th century is is to be found in Douvres la Délivrande, close to Caen, in Normandy.
The chapel of the “Communauté de la Vierge Fidèle” in Douvres la Delivrande was built in the middle of an orphanage and a boarding school for girls by Henriette d’Osseville in 1831. On the 15th of July 1971 the Community was renamed by decree the “Notre Dame de Fidélité”. One hundred years later, Lalique graced her with talent. Neither the First nor Second World Wars succeeded in completely destroying the Faithful Virgin’s Chapel.
The XX c. grand master of glass, René Jules Lalique, was born in Ay in Champagne in 1860, started as apprentice with a jeweler when he was 16, whilst studying at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. Then for 3 years, he joined Sydenham Art College in London.
Upon his return to Paris in 1895, he worked for Cartier and Boucheron, before establishing his first jeweler shop in the Place Vendome. René Lalique rapidly became one of the most important French designers of “Art Nouveau”, a style he developed during his time with the Bing Company. The Art Nouveau style’s inspiration came mainly from flora and fauna, often featuring peacocks, various insects and sometimes imaginary animals.
At the same time he discovered Japanese Art, which became one of his sources of inspiration (Prince Asaka Yasushiko of Japan commissioned him to create two glass doors for his salon) A museum is dedicated to him in the Japanese city of Hakone.
By formation Lalique was a jeweler, a designer, a talented one. He brought a real revival to jeweler, with his inspirational sources. He also broke ground by using materials unusual for jeweler, giving preference to semi-precious stones over precious ones, enamel, leather, horn, mother-of-pearl and … glass.
His research work led Lalique to glass, an artistic material for him. Simple everyday utensils were transformed by him into luxurious and refined creations. He reinvented them into attractive, beautiful pieces of art. He then went on to create numerous objects such as vases, goblets, chandeliers, perfume bottles, radiator caps for the 1925 Citroen 5CV, decorations for the restaurant cars on the Orient-Express and the First Class dining rooms on the liner Normandie, and fountains on the Champs Elysees.
In 1931 the Mother Superior of Notre Dame de Fidélité, Mother Sainte Coeur de Marie, let it be known that she, with the agreement of the sisters in the congregation, would like the unfinished Chapel to be completed for the Centenary. She particularly wanted the altar to have a luminous, translucent Crucifix whose restrained, simple design would reflect the essential traits of FAITHFULNESS.
The request was forwarded to René Lalique “No” was his first answer. What made him change his mind? Challenge of diversity, religious feeling …
He finally accepted the commission on one condition:
He Himself should decorate the whole “Chapelle” !
Step inside: “a shock”, the crucifix in translucent glass above a communion table, the luminous columns, the altar, the tabernacle, the light is iridescent, unique..
He proposed to add 3 windows in the nave of the chapel, in accordance with a technique which he had invented: “the juxtaposition of panes of flowing, molded, pressed glass“.
A Sanctuary lamp in the form of a bowl decorated with lilies, would always indicate the presence of God, and 7 candlesticks would form the Altar’s decoration.
The result would be a Work of Art, a testimony as much for the religious inspiration behind it, as for the Art of a creative genius: Lalique.
Art, inspiration religieuse, une véritable émotion s’empare des visiteurs témoins du génie créatif de René Lalique.
It weighs 60 kgs and contrary to the usual depiction of Christ with a fine and moving expression, René Lalique created Christ with a very realistic, vigorous, muscular, almost athletic body. The hands and feet are very sturdy, the face bearded and with a lot of hair, more like a defeated combatant, with a mystical, hopeful expression.
The main part of the “Crucifix and the Inscription” are hollow, made of frosted glass, Cross is in translucent glass, surrounded with chromed metal.
The stained glass windows which Lalique wanted, use a process which he patented in 1929. Lalique made the stained glass in a completely new way for that era: blocks of glass framed with metal mounts. Windows, columns, altar panels and those of the Communion Table are composed of the same basic elements: blocks of semi-crystal 20cm x 17cm mounted in chrome metal frames. The vertical part is made of lilies, the flowers mounted on a stem with leaves, the number of which varies with the height.
This totally unique Work of Art, although restored over time, maintains all of its original beauty.
René Lalique accepted only a symbolic contribution from the Congregation.
He died on 5th May 1945, aged 85.
Lalique did not die …
His company of Wingen-sur-Moder , Bas Rhin, was rescued by the Swiss entrepreneur, Silvio Denz, in 2009.
Without abandoning the chore of the art: glass, following Lalique example and spirit, he diversifies his activities. Furniture, flasques for the liquors of great names, perfume bottles for Tom Ford, sculptures such as Jean Michel Jarre’s, Yves Klein’s.
Zaha Hadid will invent black or translucide vases …. Always exclusive and signed pieces.
Other facet of his entrepreneurial mind touches the great wines. Mario Botta just designed the wine cellar of his Chateau in the Sauternes region.
Keeping in mind besides investment, always Excellence has to be reached.
For more informations:
Couvent Notre Dame de Fidelite
8 rue du Petit Clos Saint Marc.
Tel 33 (0)2 31 46 76 85