Line Vautrin - Design London Tuesday, September 19, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Jean-David Botella, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Patrick Mauriès, Line Vautrin: Miroirs, exh. cat., Galerie Chastel-Maréchal, Paris, 2004, pp. 14, 78-79

  • Catalogue Essay

    Line Vautrin Talosel Mirrors

    In the mid-twentieth century, Line Vautrin created extraordinary decorative objects including jewellery, buttons, small containers, umbrella handles, and mirrors using innovative materials and techniques. Vautrin was born in Paris to a family of artisans and her father owned a metal foundry. An independent spirit drove Vautrin to work for herself; she began making and selling jewellery at her father’s shop at an uncharacteristically young age. At the 1937 Paris International Exposition, Vautrin exhibited her jewellery made of gilt bronze, an unconventional choice of medium at the time. Her work was enthusiastically received, and the exposure from the exposition earned her a following. The subsequent war years were, unexpectedly, extremely fruitful for Vautrin. The shortage of precious materials provided an impetus for her to break further from tradition and embrace materials that were available, such as cloth, feathers, and wood. Vautrin’s mission was to inspire Parisian women to revive the quintessential French exuberance for beauty and style despite the wartime gloom (Patrick Mauriès, Line Vautrin: Miroirs, exh. cat., Galerie Chastel Maréchal, Paris, 2004, pp. 28-31). After the war, critical acclaim further encouraged Vautrin’s experimentation with materials and techniques. Around 1953 she began focusing on a new medium that she would eventually coin talosel: a synthetic resin sculpted and encrusted with small mirror fragments. Vautrin devoted over thirty years to perfecting the talosel technique. Within Vautrin’s prolific career, the talosel mirrors are a highlight.

    Vautrin’s work defies characterisation, yet a unifying element throughout her œuvre is an interest in historical styles. Vautrin mined the past for inspiration: she looked to an array of periods ranging from antiquity through the eighteenth century and spent time in archaeological museums studying the work of ancient goldsmiths (Patrick Mauriès, ‘Obituary: Line Vautrin’, Independent, 20 April 1997). During the war, she designed sculptural buttons inspired by antiquity. These miniature works of art helped establish her reputation and were so celebrated that in the mid-1940s a journalist called her ‘the queen of buttons’ (Mauriès, Line Vautrin, p. 30). Vautrin’s mirrors from the 1950s and 1960s continued to pay homage to previous eras. A single piece frequently evokes many historical styles, combined and reinterpreted into a novel design. The scintillating ornamentation and hand-wrought appearance of the talosel mirrors are reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics and metal works. The use of mirror fragments in the frames recalls Venetian mirrors from the seventeenth century where a large central mirror pane was bordered with decorative mirror pieces; although convex mirrors had become generally fashionable in home decor in the 1950s, the form of Vautrin’s mirrors often resemble convex mirrors from the Renaissance. In particular, the tab-shaped outline and circular decorations on the Mazarin mirror in lot 61 bear a striking resemblance to the mirror in Jan van Eyck’s renowned Arnolfini Portrait from 1434.

    In addition to stylistic features that draw on the past, there are symbolic elements in the talosel mirrors that relate specifically to France’s history. France was a world leader in luxury and fashion since the late seventeenth century, when Louis XIV brought the finest artisans-including Venetian glassmakers-to Paris to work in his royal manufactories. The king’s fixation with mirrors was certainly due to their extremely high value, yet mirrors were also associated with light because of their reflective properties; gaining a monopoly on the production of mirrors and filling his Palace of Versailles with them carried symbolic meaning for the French monarch, who had named himself the Sun King. In 1958, Vautrin said that she had “always been fascinated with suns” (Ibid, p. 33). Considering Vautrin’s devotion to revitalising the French spirit during the war and thereafter, her sun-shaped mirrors might also be interpreted as a patriotic nod to the golden age of French creative dominance.

    While Vautrin’s talosel mirrors have roots in history, they were entirely of their time. During World War II, there were vast developments in plastics, and after the war, the new technology was appropriated by the design world. By then, Vautrin was experimenting with mirror fragments and synthetic resin (Ibid). Although today synthetic resins are commonplace, they were at the time associated with scientific advancement, and Vautrin’s use of such an unconventional material in fine handcrafted objects was progressive and modern. The talosel process was meticulous and labour intensive; Vautrin’s vision and ingenuity turned humble materials into spectacular works of art. Tastemakers of the day affirmed the exceptional nature of Vautrin’s work. Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot, and Yul Brynner purchased her mirrors (Mauriès, Obituary) and Jean Royère used her designs in his interiors (Mauriès, Line Vautrin, p. 34). While synthetic resin and glass are no rarer today than they were sixty years ago, the value of Line Vautrin’s talosel mirrors continues to rise.

  • Artist Biography

    Line Vautrin

    French • 1913 - 1997

    After brief stints with the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and a Parisian photography firm, Line Vautrin taught herself metal foundry, which had been her father's trade, and went door-to-door selling her cast jewelry. In 1937 she rented a stand at the Paris International Exposition that attracted enough clientele for her to open a shop in the Rue de Berri. As business improved, she moved to the more fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Vautrin started out making jewelry, belts, powder compacts and buttons: At the time, the term for her line of work was parurière (one who makes and sells fashion accessories).

    Eventually, however, she hit on her signature style, developing a material she coined talosel, which comprised layers of cellulose acetate that she carved, gouged, molded and encrusted with colored mirrored glass. This new material enabled her to expand her repertoire to include larger objects such as the mirrors for which she is best known today. The objects that she created in talosel are unlike any others — original, exuberant modern designs that, with the accretions and texture of the scarified talosel, carry the aura of ancient, time-worn relics. Vautrin credited the London art dealer David Gill with re-discovering her work at a 1986 auction of her property in Paris. Her work entered the collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and since then has gained major traction in the twentieth-century design market.

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‘Gabrielle’ mirror

circa 1958
Talosel resin, coloured mirrored glass, mirrored glass.
34 x 21 cm (13 3/8 x 8 1/4 in.)

£15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for £18,750

Contact Specialist
Sofia Sayn-Wittgenstein
+44 207 901 7926


London Auction 20 September 2017