Alphonse Fouquet was a French jeweler known for his firm’s Renaissance Revival and Art Nouveau work. In 1839 Alphonse Fouquet entered the jewelry industry at the tender age of eleven, serving as an apprentice for Parisian jeweler Henri Meusnier. His mistreatment under Meusnier is now infamous. Chronicled in Fouquet’s autobiography, the apprenticeship included physical abuse, long work hours (14 to 20 hours a day), low pay, and nearly unbearable living conditions. Fouquet stayed for five years, after which he trudged from one low-paying manufacturing job to another. In 1847, he got his big break, winning a position designing jewelry at M. Pinard’s firm, a result of the promising sketches he quickly submitted upon learning there was no work to be had for craftsmen. As it happened, Fouquet was a naturally talented artist, and he quickly distinguished himself from his peers.
In 1860, after working for several firms, Alphonse Fouquet opened his own shop. While first producing fine Archaeological Revival jewelry, Fouquet turned to the Renaissance Revival style in the 1870’s and 80’s, creating some of the most stunning examples of revival jewelry from that era. His designs were fantastical, featuring sphinxes, dragons, mermaids, putti, and other mythological characters. Fine chasing, enameling, and diamonds embellished the pieces. In 1878, when he exhibited his work at Paris’s Exposition Universelle, Fouquet won a gold prize for pieces that were described as “absolutely flawless” by fellow jeweler Falize. His later work also prefigured Art Nouveau trends. In particular, he is credited with re-introducing the female form into jewelry, a practice considered “heresy” by some.
In 1895, Alphonse’s son, Georges Fouquet, assumed control of the business and was responsible for the firm’s unusual designs of Art Nouveau jewels, which brought them their greatest success and most lasting renown. “A tireless worker,” says Vever, “he was enthralled by all things new, and his search for fresh inspiration was relentless.” By 1898, Georges was exhibiting jewelry in the Art Nouveau style. Indeed, jewelry historians deem the firm’s work during this era second only to that of René Lalique.
Fouquet pieces were typically composed of gold and embellished with enamel, opals, horn, pearls, and, sometimes, finely-set diamonds. Naturalistic motifs predominated. Sensuously curvy lines, softly-colored enamels, and subtle textures were used to great effect. A host of celebrated artists were kept on staff during this time, including Alphonse Mucha, Charles Desrosiers, and Etienne Tourette. Mucha’s pieces in particular won the firm praise. According to art historian Vivienne Becker, his jewels were, “strange objects, theatrical and unwearable, shoulder and breast pieces, head ornaments draped with chains, with fabulously enameled plaques Byzantine in flavour and entirely different from the usual run of naturalistic Art Nouveau jewels.” One of his most famous pieces was a serpent-motif bracelet habitually worn by actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The firm won great acclaim at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900 with jewels designed by Alphonse Mucha. Mucha was famous as a painter and creator of lithographs in color advertising Sarah Bernhardt’s performances. His jewelry designs for Fouquet were the beginning of a short but fruitful creative partnership that culminated in the opening in 1900 of Fouquet’s new shop at 6 Rue Royale. Mucha designed every inch of the shop, from the façade to the showcases. An Art Nouveau theme ran throughout, with a polychrome peacock roundel standing guard over the store from high on a wall above the main jewelry case.
In 1919 Georges Fouquet was joined by his son Jean, who excelled in the Art Deco style. Jean Fouquet designed jewelry of marked originality. He liked pieces with bold designs and favored white gold. He believed one should be able to see a piece of jewelry from a distance and therefore it must be a bold design.
The Fouquets saw the peak of fervor for Art Nouveau jewels, holding an important position in Paris from 1878 to 1930. Sensing a decline, they chose to redecorate their shop in a more sober and rectilinear style. However, they recognized what a remarkable “gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art) Mucha had created for them and donated the entire decoration to the Musée Carnavalet, the Museum of the City of Paris. Mucha’s original interior can be viewed to this day, an intact relic of the era when Art Nouveau jewelry and design reigned supreme in the City of Light. Despite the remodeling in 1936 the shop was forced into bankruptcy and closed. Jean Fouquet continued to take private commissions into the 1950’s.